Romney takes swipe at Trump administration virus response

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Virus Outbreak Fauci

Chairman Lamar Alexander, R-Tenn., shown on a monitor, right, speaks during virtual Senate Committee for Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing, Tuesday, May 12, 2020 on Capitol Hill in Washington. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, top left, is to testify before the committee. (Win McNamee/Pool via AP)

WASHINGTON (AP) — The Latest on the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee hearing on the coronavirus pandemic (all times local):

1:15 p.m.

Utah Republican Sen. Mitt Romney is taking a swipe at the Trump administration’s pandemic response, and also questioning President Donald Trump’s suggestion that his predecessor Barack Obama is responsible for the lack of a coronavirus vaccine.

Romney chided administration “testing czar” Adm. Brett Giroir for taking part in a White House event celebrating nearly 9 million coronavirus tests in the U.S., much more than testing leader South Korea performed. The difference is that South Korea tested early, and the U.S. is playing catch up, Romney said, adding that as a result there are many more American deaths.

“I find our testing record nothing to celebrate whatsoever,” Romney said.

Romney also asked Dr. Anthony Fauci to comment on Trump placing the blame on Obama for the lack of a vaccine. “Not at all,” responded Fauci, “certainly President Obama nor President Trump are responsible for us not having a vaccine.”

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12:45 p.m.

Sen. Chris Murphy, D-Conn., blasted the Trump administration for “criminally vague” guidance on how states can safely reopen their economies. He pressed CDC Director Robert Redfield on why detailed recommendations prepared by agency experts had been shelved, as reported by The Associated Press.

Redfield responded with an explanation that veered into how government bureaucracy works. He said such guidance documents are sent for interagency review to make sure they’re appropriate for all areas of the country. That’s now complete with the CDC recommendations and they’ve been sent back up to the White House.

Redfield said the CDC recommendations should appear on the agency’s website soon.

Murphy said the administration is just making it harder for governors to resist political pressure to reopen their states prematurely.

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12:25 p.m.

Dr. Anthony Fauci had a sharp retort for Sen. Rand Paul after the Kentucky Republican said that Fauci was not the “end all” in knowledge about the coronavirus, and that it’s “kind of ridiculous” to suggest children should be kept out of school in the fall.

While agreeing that children on the whole do much better than adults with COVID-19, Fauci noted recent reports of severe disease among children and said it’s still really not well understood.

“We don’t know everything about this virus and we really better be pretty careful, particularly when it comes to children,” Fauci said. “I think we better be careful (that) we are not cavalier in thinking that children are completely immune from the deleterious effects.”

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11:30 a.m.

Trump administration “testing czar” Adm. Brett Giroir tells the Senate that the U.S. could be performing at least 40 million to 50 million tests per month by September.

But that would work out to only between 1.3 million to 1.7 million tests per day.

Harvard researchers say the United States must be doing 900,000 by this Friday in order to safely reopen.

Giroir is assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services. He spoke via video conference Tuesday at a hearing of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions committee.

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11 a.m.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, says states that ignore the national guidelines for reopening the economy run the risk of spikes in coronavirus cases that may turn into new outbreaks.

“The consequences could be really serious,” Fauci tells the Senate Health, Labor and Pensions committee. Problems will escalate if states do not have the hospital capacity to treat patients and to isolate people exposed to the virus.

“There is no doubt, even under the best of circumstances ... you will see some cases appear,” as communities reopen, Fauci said. The guidelines are based on 14 days of gradually decreasing cases.

Fauci spoke by video conference to the hearing. He is self-quarantining after a White House staffer testified positive for the virus.

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10:30 a.m.

A Senate hearing featuring Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top health officials got underway in a storied hearing room, but that’s about all that remained of Congress' pre-pandemic way of conducting oversight.

The senators running the event, Chairman Lamar Alexander of Tennessee and Patty Murray of Washington, were isolating at their homes and they spoke remotely.

Same for the marquee witnesses — Fauci, Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Dr. Stephen Hahn, head of the Food and Drug Administration. Each of the three were exposed to a White House aide who had tested positive for the virus last week.

A few senators, such as Alaska Republican Lisa Murkowski and Connecticut Democrat Chris Murphy, attended the session in the hearing room. They wore masks, as did an array of aides buzzing behind them.

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10:39 a.m.

Dr. Anthony Fauci says the government is working on several potential vaccines for COVID-19.

“We have many candidates and hope to have many winners,” he tells the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pension committee. “In other words, it is many shots on goal.”

But despite the rapid pace of work on vaccines, Fauci was offering no guarantees.

“The big unknown is efficacy,” he said.

Fauci heads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and is the government’s leading expert on the pandemic. He says he hopes to have a vaccine in advanced trials by late fall or early winter.

Fauci spoke by video conference to the hearing. He is self-quarantining after a White House staffer testified positive for the virus.