May 12 (UPI) -- Members of the White House Coronavirus Task Force testified remotely before a Senate committee Tuesday, at which the nation's top expert on infectious diseases warned governments against reopening too soon amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases at the National Institutes of Health, told the Senate health, education, labor and pensions committee he would be concerned about reopening before a solid decline in cases.
Fauci said governments shouldn't "jump over" various checkpoints and "prematurely open."
Committee Chairman Sen. Lamar Alexander began the virtual hearing by calling for millions of new tests via "new technologies," saying that's the best way to get ahead of the crisis. He also urged senators to avoid "finger-pointing."
"Even the experts underestimated COVID-19," he said.
The hearing was Senate Democrats' first opportunity since March to question White House leaders about the federal response led by President Donald Trump, who has pushed for economies to reopen.
Washington Sen. Patty Murray, the panel's top Democrat, denounced the federal response.
"The Trump administration's response to this public health emergency so far has been a disaster on its own," she said in her opening statement, also criticizing delays and pointing to "political interference" in the procurement of medical equipment.
Murray said the American public can't rely on Trump to tell them what's happening.
"Lives are at stake," she said. "The president is not telling the truth."
Fauci limited his opening statement to an assessment of possible vaccines that are in development.
"We have many candidates and hope to have multiple winners," he said.
Later under questioning, however, he also expressed doubt that there will be a vaccine that will allow students to return to campuses in the fall, calling the idea "a bridge too far."
Many states have already started to loosen restrictions and more will do so in the coming days and weeks. In his testimony, Fauci acknowledged a risk of uncontrollable outbreaks later this year if proper precautions aren't taken.
"There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control," he warned, saying he hopes to avoid such a scenario with ramped-up prevention efforts.
Also testifying Tuesday was Dr. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. He said in his opening statement the United States must reach extensive testing capacity before it can fully lift restrictions.
"Rapid, extensive and widely available, timely testing is essential to reopening America," he said.
Dr. Brett Giroir, assistant secretary for health at the Department of Health and Human Services, projected that U.S. health workers will be able to perform 40 to 50 million tests per month by September.
Tuesday, Trump encouraged the state of California to lift more restrictions.
"California should let Tesla and [CEO Elon Musk] open the plant, NOW," he tweeted. "It can be done fast and safely."
Trump also tweeted that coronavirus testing in the United States, which some experts say has lagged behind that of other nations, is "the best in the world, by far."
In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio said Tuesday he's looking into "all options" to allow city schools to reopen in time for the upcoming academic year.
He said he is considering strategies such as staggered school days and hours, enhanced distance learning and other options to reach "Plan A" in which "everyone goes to school in early September as usual, we're up and running at full strength."
But, de Blasio warned, "a lot needs to happen" before a final decision is made and gave no timetable for when the call will be made.
Meanwhile, the mayor reported 52 confirmed cases of multi-system inflammatory syndrome in city children, including about half whose tests suggested they previously had the coronavirus and had recovered.
"This was not something that the healthcare community saw on their radar, and then in the last week or two, suddenly, we're seeing something that's very troubling," he said.
In Connecticut, Gov. Ned Lamont fired his state health commission in the midst of the pandemic.
Lamont said Renee Coleman-Mitchell was replaced by Department of Social Services Commissioner Deidre Gifford as the leader of Connecticut's efforts against the coronavirus late Monday.
He would not comment on why she was removed when asked Tuesday during a tour of a state warehouse.