Federal health officials appear before House committee to discuss coronavirus

Health officials from various agencies of the Department of Health and Human Services appeared before the House Energy and Commerce Committee to discuss the COVID-19 pandemic.

The hearing ranged from vaccines and treatments to reopening strategies. The health leaders also rebuked some of President Donald Trump’s assertions about the outbreak.

Notably, health leaders contradicted some of President Trump’s recent claims. They emphasized the importance of a high volume of testing, shortly after President Trump said he wanted to see less testing.

“We are proceeding in just the opposite. We want to do more testing and of higher quality,” said Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health for HHS. “The only way that we will be able to understand who has the disease, who is infected, and can pass it, and to do appropriate contact tracing is to test appropriately, smartly and as many people as we can.”

In the official testimony, the officials said testing had reached between 400,000 and 500,000 tests per day nationwide, with the expectation that number will continue to increase.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, called the current uptick in COVID-19 cases in states like Florida, Texas, and Arizona “very troublesome to me.” He warned the coming weeks are critical to slowing the spread in these areas.

Some lawmakers questioned the pace at which the health agencies were moving to get a coronavirus vaccine to market, concerned that the speed was reflective of cutting corners, but the health leaders denied that.

“I can promise we will work with companies and Operation Warp Speed to provide assistance so the right studies are done with right information,” said Dr. Stehpen Hahn, commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration. “We will independently look at those data to make decisions, and we will use science and data to do that.”

Fauci agreed and went further, suggesting that the “Warp Speed” name gave the wrong impression.

“There were some good intentions about using the words ‘Warp Speed,’ but I flinched because people might think it’s reckless,” Fauci explained. “There are risks, but they are all financial risks, not compromising safety at all, nor compromising scientific integrity. This program says we are going to assume it’s going to work and put investment in phase 3, even before we know phase 1 is successful or make doses before we know its effective. It is cutting down on time, but not cutting down on investments in safety in science. The only thing you might lose is a lot of money. I would rather lose a lot of money and gain 4, 5, 6, 7 months, than have results and have to wait months for the vaccine.”

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