WASHINGTON, DC (NEXSTAR) — The top health experts from the White House coronavirus task force testified before the Senate health committee Tuesday about the nation’s coronavirus response and efforts to reopen the economy.
All four witnesses and many senators attended via video conference, some because they are self-quarantined due to exposure to COVID-19.
“Staying at home indefinitely is not the solution to this pandemic,” said Sen. Lamar Alexander, R-TN.
Alexander chaired the hearing from his home in Tennessee after one of his staffers tested positive for coronavirus. He outlined what it will take to get the country moving again.
“All roads back to work and back to school lead through testing, tracking, isolation, treatment and vaccines,” Alexander said.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, told senators the results of vaccine trials won’t be available until late fall or early winter.
“The idea of having treatments available or a vaccine to facilitate the reentry of students into the fall term would be something that would be a bit of a bridge too far,” Fauci said.
Fauci said the key for reopening campuses is testing. The country’s testing czar, Admiral Brett Giroir, told the committee the U.S. will be able to conduct 40 to 50 million tests a month by September.
“It is certainly possible to test all of the students,” Giroir said. “It is much more likely that there would be a surveillance strategy done where you may test some of the students at different times.”
Other senators questioned the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention about its federal directives to schools.
Sen. Bill Cassidy, R-LA, said the CDC should at least give states multiple testing options.
“To say to each school district or each private or parochial or independent school, ‘Work with your state board of health. Figure it out,’ seems a wasted effort,” Cassidy said.
Sen. Doug Jones, D-AL, said testing is vital to inform places like childcare facilities how to reopen.
“Using that data is also going to be important in terms of the quarantine plans,” Jones said.
While questions remain, both senators and health experts stressed the importance of getting America’s students back to school.