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Dr. Fauci, CDC Director Redfield testify before Senate as states struggle to contain coronavirus

Coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and other top government health officials testified before a Senate Committee on the latest efforts by the U.S. government to contain the pandemic.

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Dr. Anthony Fauci said coronavirus cases could grow to 100,000 a day in the U.S. if Americans don’t start following public health recommendations.

The nation’s leading infectious disease expert made the remark at a Senate hearing on reopening schools and workplaces.

Asked to forecast the outcome of recent surges in some states, Fauci said he can’t make an accurate prediction but believes it will be “very disturbing.”

“We are now having 40-plus-thousand new cases a day. I would not be surprised if we go up to to 100,000 a day if this does not turn around, and so I am very concerned,” said Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health.

Fauci said areas seeing recent outbreaks are putting the entire nation at risk, including areas that have made progress in reducing COVID-19 cases. He cited recent video footage of people socializing in crowds, often without masks, and otherwise ignoring safety guidelines.

Fauci and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield stressed during testimony the importance of wearing masks, with Fauci saying "we recommend masks for everyone" and "masks are extremely important."

That warning from top U.S. health experts came during a hearing on the latest efforts by the U.S. government to contain the pandemic, as several states struggle to contain the virus amid rising cases and state reopenings. The U.S. reported more than 40,000 new COVID-19 cases on Friday, its biggest daily jump yet.

Redfield singled out younger Americans in particular to deliver a message that they are not exempt from the necessity of wearing a mask.

"It is critical that we all take the personal responsibility to slow the transmission of COVID-19 and embrace the universal use of face coverings," he said. "Specifically, I'm addressing the younger members of our society, the Millennials and the Generation Zs — I ask those that are listening to spread the word."

Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah asked about what are the practical takeaways for everyday activities and their risks.

“Congregation in a bar is really bad news,” Fauci said. “We really got to stop that.”

He also said being outdoors is better than being outdoors in terms of the risk of spreading the virus.

The government’s top experts in infectious diseases also criticized American Airlines' decision to pack flights full while the coronavirus outbreak continues to grow across much of the United States.

“Obviously that is something that is of concern. I’m not sure what went into that decision making,” Fauci told a Senate panel. “I think in the confines of an airplane that becomes even more problematic.”

Several U.S. airlines say they are limiting capacity on planes to between 60% and 67% of all seats. However, United Airlines never promised to leave seats empty, and American said last week that starting Wednesday it would drop its effort to keep half of all middle seats empty.

“When they announced that the other day, obviously there was substantial disappointment,” said Redfield. He said American was sending the wrong message to the public.

American Airlines spokesman Ross Feinstein said the airline has “multiple layers of protection in place for those who fly with us, including required face coverings, enhanced cleaning procedures, and a pre-flight COVID-19 symptom checklist.” He said American was also giving customers the option of changing their ticket if their flight might be full.

Fauci also spoke of the across-the-board importance of wearing masks.

"We are all in this together," he said, adding, "We recommend masks for everyone on the outside, anyone who comes into contact in a crowded area. You should avoid crowds where possible and when you're outside and not have the capability of maintaining distance, you should wear a mask at all times."

Fauci indicated that he would support an effort to increase the production of high-quality masks in the U.S. and distribute them free of charge to the American public in response to a question from Vermont independent Sen. Bernie Sanders.

"Masks are extremely important," Fauci said, adding, "There's no doubt that wearing masks protects you and gets you to be protected. So it's people protecting each other. Anything that furthers the use of masks, whether it's giving out free masks or any other mechanism, I am thoroughly in favor of."

More than half of all states are seeing a rise in cases, and Florida, Texas and Arizona are getting hit particularly hard. Texas has begun scaling back its reopening, and beaches in Florida have closed for the upcoming holiday weekend.

Fauci and Redfield testified before lawmakers last week, when Fauci said "we're going to be doing more testing, not less," in response to President Donald Trump's recent claim that he asked his administration to slow down testing during the pandemic.

Senators have been weighing another stimulus package in recent weeks as unemployment numbers remain worrisome and economic hardship stemming from the pandemic persists. Republicans remains divided on the size and scale of the next stimulus bill and while it has been discussed for months, the next phase of economic relief is still weeks away. But there is now broad agreement something has to be done — something that wasn't always the case.

In Capitol Hill's last round of aid, Congress boosted unemployment checks by $600 a week and added 13 weeks of pay, beyond what states offer. The additional money will expire on July 31 without congressional action, but the 13-week extension will remain in place until the end of the year. A second round of stimulus payments is on the negotiating table in Washington, but some of the 160 million Americans who got money the first time could be left out, according to a more targeted approach the administration is pushing for.

Republicans have zeroed in on the last week of July to reach agreement on the next round of stimulus legislation. Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell has been adamant for weeks on that timeline and the administration is on board.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.