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Dr. Fauci, other U.S. health officials draw criticism in Senate hearing over COVID-19 changes

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Dr. Fauci, other U.S. health officials draw criticism in Senate hearing over COVID-19 changes
National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Dr. Anthony Fauci testifies Tuesday before a Senate health, education, labor, and pensions committee hearing to examine the federal response to COVID-19 and new emerging variants on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. Pool photo by Greg Nash/UPI | License Photo

Jan. 11 (UPI) -- In what's become a frequent occurrence over the past year, Dr. Anthony Fauci and other top U.S. health officials found themselves sparring with Republican lawmakers on Tuesday over federal efforts to stem the spread of COVID-19 and its more-infectious Omicron variant.

Fauci, President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, appeared before the Senate heath, education, labor and pensions committee to update lawmakers, along with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky and Acting Food and Drug Administration Commissioner Dr. Janet Woodcock.

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During their testimony, Fauci was challenged by Sen. Rand Paul, R-Ky., over a recent email exchange with other scientists -- a tactic that critics say Republicans have often used to obscure the issue.

Fauci and the others received a bit of bipartisan criticism during the hearing over the availability of home COVID-19 tests, especially at schools. Biden announced last month that the government would soon set up a website for all Americans to order a COVID-19 test at no cost. The website is expected to launch later this month.

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Committee Chair Sen. Patty Murray, D-Wash., and ranking member Sen. Richard Burr, R-N.C., both expressed confusion about CDC guidance. Murray said she's repeatedly been contacted by her constituents about the lack of tests -- as well as masks and other protective equipment.

"I've heard from so many people who are waiting in long lines and are going from pharmacy to pharmacy trying to find a test, or who are giving up on getting tested because tests are unavailable or cost too much," Murray said, adding that the CDC guidance on masks and quarantines is "confusing and frustrating" to the American public.

Burr criticized Biden's administration over how it's communicated changes and quizzed Dawn O'Donnell, Health and Human Services Department assistant secretary for preparedness and response, about the tests' ability to identify Omicron.

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"The way this administration rolled out boosters was a disaster," Burr said. "You created skepticism and mass confusion."

Walensky acknowledged that recent updates resulted in various questions and she attempted to walk through some of them, such as the new five-day isolation rule. Also, she urged vaccination and boosters for all Americans.

Since the emergence of Omicron, most states have reported record case totals and hospitalizations nationwide are nearing a pandemic high.

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In an effort to increase access to testing, Biden announced Monday that private insurers will be required to reimburse Americans for the cost of over-the-counter COVID-19 tests, beginning Saturday.

Tuesday's testimony came after the FDA took two major steps last month to fight the pandemic -- granting emergency use authorization to two antiviral pills to treat COVID-19 -- Pfizer's Paxlovid and Merck's molnupiravir. They are the first two post-COVID-19 pill treatments to be distributed in the United States.

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