Fauci on coronavirus infections: 'We're still in a first wave'

Anthony FauciAnthony FauciTillis appears to reinforce question about COVID-19 death toll Overnight Health Care: Trump signs largely symbolic pre-existing conditions order amid lawsuit | White House puts off action on surprise medical bills | Rising coronavirus cases spark fears of harsh winter NY health officials to review any vaccine approved by Trump MORE, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, is warning that the United States has to yet get through the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak.

“People keep talking about a second wave,” Fauci said in an interview with The Wall Street Journal on Tuesday. “We’re still in a first wave.”

The comments arrived as pockets of the U.S. experience surges in new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.

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California, Texas, Arizona and Florida are among states reporting consistent increases in case counts. In Texas, health authorities on Tuesday registered the state's highest number of hospitalizations due to COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.

President TrumpDonald John TrumpNew Biden campaign ad jabs at Trump's reported 0 income tax payments Ocasio-Cortez: Trump contributed less in taxes 'than waitresses and undocumented immigrants' Third judge orders Postal Service to halt delivery cuts MORE and Vice President Pence have cast the increase as largely a product of an uptick in the nation’s testing capacity. Pence wrote in an op-ed earlier Tuesday that the media's coverage of a "second wave" was "overblown," arguing that the administration's approach "has been a success."

But Fauci told the Journal that higher percentages of positive tests in some states “cannot be explained by increased testing.”

He also pointed to people’s behavior, saying that it’s “very risky” to congregate in places such as bars when “the location they are [in] indicates they shouldn’t be doing that.”

In a separate radio interview, Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, said that a combination of individual behavior and states relaxing health restrictions too soon was responsible for some of the increases. 

"States may say they’re in this particular stage, but then you might find people are not adhering to the guidelines," he told NPR. "That’s clearly increasing the risk and likely explaining some of the upticks you’re seeing."

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The U.S. has reported more than 2.1 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 116,000 deaths caused by it, according to a Johns Hopkins University database.

Fauci indicated earlier this month that the White House task force continued to do "substantial" work, but he said Tuesday that his last meeting with Trump came two weeks ago, when he and other health experts informed the president of vaccine development efforts. 

Like Pence, Trump has repeatedly touted the nation's testing capacity, something it struggled with at the outset of the outbreak, as the reason for the recent rise in cases.

Trump, who is planning to host a campaign rally in Tulsa, Okla., on Saturday, told reporters on Monday that "if we stop testing right now, we’d have very few cases, if any."

“As the President has said, the cure cannot be worse than the disease and that is why all 50 states have begun the process of a phased reopening,” White House spokesman Judd Deere told The Hill.

“As this continues, the American people will use what they have learned about COVID-19 and take the appropriate precautions, such as social distancing, facial coverings, and regularly washing hands, to protect the public health and return us to a growing economy.”

A White House official added that the rise in case counts stemmed in part from an increase in testing capacity in underserved communities, long-term care facilities and prisons. The official said that there was increased community spread in 2 percent of U.S. counties.

--This report was updated on June 17 at 10:16 a.m.