Infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci resisted efforts by Republicans to criticize recent protests against racial injustice while pushing back on their continued promotion of hydroxycholoroquine as a possible coronavirus remedy in Congress on Friday.
Fauci's testimony at a hearing of the U.S. House of Representatives subcommittee on the coronavirus crisis came at the end of a month in which U.S. coronavirus deaths rose by almost 25,000 and cases doubled in at least 18 states, according to a Reuters tally, dealing a crushing blow to hopes of quickly reopening the economy.
The United States has recorded nearly 1.8 million new COVID-19 cases in July out of its total 4.5 million known infections, an increase of 66 per cent with many states yet to report on Friday. Deaths in July rose at least 19 per cent to a total of more than 152,000.
Republican Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri submitted into the record a study conducted at the Henry Ford Health System in Detroit showing benefits to treating some coronavirus patients with hydroxychloroquine, best known as an anti-malaria drug.
"That study is a flawed study," said Fauci, stressing it wasn't a randomized, placebo-controlled trial and that patients also received corticosteroids, which in a separate study exhibited benefits for seriously ill patients.
When confronted with the fact it was peer-reviewed, Fauci demurred.
"It doesn't matter. You can peer review something that's a bad study," he said.
President Donald Trump, some Republicans in Congress and several conservative media commentators have consistently pushed for the drug's use, many of them widely sharing a video this week extolling its virtues that was produced for the web with funding from the group Tea Party Patriots Action. Facebook eventually pulled the video from its site.
Any and all of the randomized placebo-controlled trials — which is the gold standard of determining if something is effective — none of them have shown any efficacy for hydroxychloroquine. - Dr. Anthony Fauci
The president has claimed he took hydroxychloroquine in the spring with no ill effects.
"Any and all of the randomized placebo-controlled trials — which is the gold standard of determining if something is effective — none of them have shown any efficacy for hydroxychloroquine," said Fauci.
Fauci, who leads the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, added he would be "the first one to admit it and promote it" if a hydroxychloroquine study in the future meets that standard and shows positive effects.
A veteran of six Republican and Democratic administrations, Fauci has become the most familiar face of the administration's coronavirus task force but a target of many conservatives who want to see the state economies fully reopened.
Early in the session, Fauci clashed with Rep. Jim Jordan, after the Ohio Republican demanded Fauci's opinion about whether protests should be curbed or eliminated to control the pandemic.
"Should we limit the protesting?" Jordan asked. When Fauci said he was not in a position to make such a recommendation, the lawmaker retorted: "You make all kinds of recommendations. You make comments on dating, on baseball and everything you could imagine."
"I'm not favouring anybody over anybody," Fauci replied. "I'm not going to opine on limiting anything … I'm telling you what is the danger, and you can make your own conclusion about that. You should stay away from crowds, no matter where the crowds are."
Fauci, who made headlines in March by describing U.S. testing efforts as a failing, also resisted efforts by Democrats to criticize the Trump administration response to the virus, frequently handing off questions about the current state of testing and other matters to his fellow panellists.
In addition to Fauci, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Robert Redfield and Admiral Brett Giroir, assistant secretary at the Department of Health and Human Services, also testified.
Testing times still a concern
At the start of the hearing, congressional Republicans and Democrats clashed about whether the Trump administration had a national strategy to respond to the coronavirus pandemic.
"The administration's approach of deferring to states, sidelining experts and rushing to reopen has prolonged this virus and led to thousands of preventable deaths," said panel Chairman James Clyburn, who denounced Trump's coronavirus response as "among the worst of any country in the world."
But Steve Scalise, the subcommittee's top Republican, dismissed Clyburn's criticism as political posturing, saying the Trump administration has provided effective plans for schools, employers, nursing homes and vaccine development.
"You wouldn't even be here today if there wasn't a plan," said Scalise.
Giroir acknowledged that currently it's not possible for the U.S. to return all coronavirus test results to patients in two to three days. He blamed overwhelming demand across the nation.
Many health experts say that COVID-19 results are almost worthless when delivered after two or three days because by then the window for contact tracing has closed.
The latest government data shows about 75 per cent of testing results are coming back within five days, but the remainder are taking longer, Giroir told lawmakers.
Rapid, widespread testing is critical to containing the coronavirus outbreak, but the U.S. effort has been plagued by supply shortages and backlogs since the earliest days of the outbreak.