‘It’s going to get worse’: Health officials warn of coronavirus escalation

“If we are complacent and don’t do really aggressive containment and mitigation, the number could go way up and be involved in many, many millions,” he warned.

Fauci, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Robert Redfield and other emergency response officials testified before the panel Wednesday morning. But the hearing was cut short so officials could rush to an “emergency” White House meeting with President Donald Trump and Vice President Mike Pence.

It wasn’t immediately clear what the meeting was about. Fauci and Redfield declined to speak to reporters as they left the Capitol.

Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar said earlier Wednesday that the federal government would issue new guidance to U.S. communities affected by the coronavirus regarding “aggressive steps” to counter the burgeoning outbreak.

“You’re going to hear from CDC today and the White House that we’re going to be making recommendations to those local communities about aggressive steps that we think they should be taking, and we’ve been collaborating closely with them on that,” Azar told “Fox & Friends.”

One administration official said the recommendations will instruct residents of communities in California, Massachusetts, New York and Washington to work from home and declare that schools should close under certain circumstances.

Azar suggested similar steps during his interview Wednesday. He said the administration is “working with places like Washington, New York, Massachusetts, Florida, California to mitigate the impacts — avoiding large social gatherings, appropriate closures of schools.”

Azar also offered a more dire warning about the nature of the outbreak, asserting that “we’ll see more cases” of the coronavirus among Americans and adding that “there is literally no way that the United States, as the center of the global economy, is immune from this.”

The Trump administration has faced criticism for the time it took to produce testing for the coronavirus as the public health crisis worsened, as well as the availability of those tests to state and local health care providers and the government’s inability to track them.

Trump has recommended aggressive measures to boost the flagging economy, including a payroll tax cut and paid leave for hourly employees unable to work due to the outbreak.

House Democrats are moving forward with their own economic package that proposes paid sick leave for certain workers, increased funding for children’s school lunches, expanded unemployment insurance and greater spending on social safety-net programs.

The Treasury Department is also considering postponing the April 15 tax filing deadline due to the outbreak. And the State Department announced that an upcoming G-7 ministerial that the U.S. was set to host in Pittsburgh later this month will now be held virtually via video teleconference “out of an abundance of caution.”

In Washington, a District of Columbia health advisory recommended the postponement or cancellation of all “non-essential mass gatherings” of 1,000 or more people through the end of March.

Meanwhile, Democratic governors continued Wednesday to condemn the federal government’s handling of the outbreak. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo knocked the amount of testing that has been conducted thus far in the U.S. and urged state authorities to take on greater responsibility in the face of the administration’s insufficient response efforts.

“China was doing 200,000 tests a day. South Korea was doing 15,000 tests a day. We’ve done 5,000 to date,” Cuomo told MSNBC’s “Morning Joe.”

“So what I would say — what I have been saying to other governors — is, ‘You’re on your own,’ you know?” he continued. “Let the states take action because when they do the retrospective here … I think this is going to be the public health version of Hurricane Katrina. The federal government has just fallen down on the job, so let the states do it.”

Illinois Gov. J. B. Pritzker also said he was “extremely disappointed” in the administration and expressed concerns about the coronavirus’ potential effects on the state’s presidential primaries next week. He said officials were working to move polling sites away from nursing and veterans homes to limit exposure to vulnerable elderly residents and encouraged voters to cast their ballots by mail.

“We think we’re doing what’s required here to have a successful, democratic election,” Pritzker told MSNBC.

Trump, for his part, trumpeted praise from Democratic Gov. Gavin Newsom of California, who credited the president for his administration’s support in the state’s repatriation of passengers from an infected cruise ship that docked in Oakland.

But he blasted critical coverage of his coronavirus response, calling a Vanity Fair report a “phony & boring hit piece.”

“Our team is doing a great job with CoronaVirus!” Trump said.

Brianna Ehley, Nancy Cook and Myah Ward contributed to this report.