Top federal health official says coronavirus outbreak is ‘going to get worse’ in the US

By | March 11, 2020

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the NIH National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies about Coronavirus, COVID-19, during a Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions hearing on Capitol Hill in Washington, DC, March 3, 2020.

Saul Loeb | AFP | Getty Images

A top U.S. health official said the worst is yet to come with a new coronavirus outbreak that has already infected more than 1,000 people across the nation, prompting state officials from New York to Washington to close schools and even mobilize troops outside of Manhattan. 

“I can say we will see more cases and things will get worse than they are right now,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee at a hearing on the nation’s preparedness for the outbreak Wednesday.

How much worse depends on two things, he said: containing the influx of infected people coming from other countries and containing local outbreaks within the U.S.

“Bottom line is it’s going to get worse,” he added.

Once there’s widespread community transmission, or if health officials can’t trace back the origin of localized outbreaks, that’s when the country won’t be able to “effectively and efficiently contain it,” Fauci said.

Fauci said the total number of U.S. infections and deaths will be “totally dependent upon how we respond to it.”

“I can’t give you a number,” he said. “I can’t give you a realistic number until we put into the factor of how we respond. If we’re complacent and don’t do really aggressive containment and mitigation, the number could go way up and be involved in many many millions.”

CDC Director Robert Redfield confirmed that COVID-19 has now killed 31 people in the U.S. Globally, there are more than 119,000 confirmed cases and at least 4,291 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. 

President Donald Trump summoned the panel of witnesses to an emergency meeting at the White House later Wednesday, cutting the hearing short, Committee Chairwoman Rep. Carolyn Maloney said at the top of the hearing. 

“This morning we were informed that President Trump and Vice President Pence have called our witnesses to an emergency meeting at the White House. We don’t know the details, just that it’s extremely urgent,” Maloney, D-NY, said

The White House didn’t immediately respond to CNBC’s request for comment. White House officials later told reporters the meeting was scheduled yesterday as “part of the administration’s ongoing whole-of-government response to the coronavirus.”

CNBC’s Kevin Breuninger contributed to this article. 

This is breaking news. Please check back for updates. 

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