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The coronavirus continues to spread across the United States, bringing with it immense economic damage. So far, Congress has been unable to deliver another pandemic relief measure, prompting House Democrats to cancel a planned August recess. But there were signs of hope on Capitol Hill, as top U.S. scientists spoke of encouraging progress toward developing a COVID-19 vaccine. Stephanie Sy reports.
There is still no end in sight tonight to the COVID-19 pandemic and no economic relief package either.
But health experts leading the fight say a vaccine may be on the horizon. That was a central focus at the day's marquee congressional hearing.
Stephanie Sy begins our coverage.
A note of hope from the nation's top infectious disease expert today.
We feel cautiously optimistic that we will have a vaccine by the end of this year and as we go into 2021.
Dr. Anthony Fauci told the House Oversight Subcommittee on Coronavirus that efforts to secure a vaccine are moving at breakneck pace. He also promised that when a vaccine is finally approved, it will be widely available.
Ultimately, within a reasonable time, the plans now allow for any American who needs the vaccine to get it.
Joining him on the panel, Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and Admiral Brett Giroir, the White House testing czar.
Democratic Committee Chair Jim Clyburn of South Carolina ripped into the Trump administration's response, especially on testing.
Rep. James Clyburn, D-S.C.:
The federal government has still not yet developed and implemented a national strategy to protect the American people.
Testing and contact tracing have been mostly handled at the local and state levels. And with cases surging in much of the nation, Admiral Giroir acknowledged delays in an exchange with Democratic Congressman Andy Kim of New Jersey.
Rep. Andy Kim, D-N.J.:
Would it be possible for our nation to have results for all COVID tests completed and returned within 48 and 72 hours? Is that a possible benchmark that we can achieve?
It is not a possible benchmark we can achieve today, given the demand and the supply. It is absolutely a benchmark we can achieve moving forward.
Republicans pushed the panel on reopening schools, arguing that children lose essential services when not in the classroom.
Rep. Blaine Luetkemeyer, R-Mo:
We need to make sure we're looking at both sides of this health care issue.
Blaine Luetkemeyer of Missouri warned that child abuse is going unreported because kids are not in school, where teachers can see them and spot signs of abuse.
And the CDC's Redfield repeated his own call to return to classrooms.
The public health interest of the students in this nation right now is to get quality education and face-to-face learning, and we need to get on with it.
But another point made by the Missouri congressman on the use of hydroxychloroquine as a COVID-19 treatment was dispelled by Fauci, who called the study President Trump has been touting flawed.
Any and all of the randomized placebo-controlled trials, which is the gold standard of determining if something is effective, none of them have shown any efficacy for hydroxychloroquine.
Republicans also challenged Fauci to weigh in on recent political events. Ohio's Jim Jordan pressed the point of whether protests against police brutality, like those in Portland, Oregon, contribute to infections.
Rep. Jim Jordan, R-Ohio:
I just want an answer to the question, do the protests increase the spread of the virus?
I don't have any scientific evidence of anything. I can tell you that crowds are known, particularly when you don't have a mask, to increase the acquisition and transmission.
Avoiding large gatherings is one of five actions the CDC's Redfield said Americans should be doing to curb the virus, along with wearing a face covering, social distancing, hand hygiene, and avoiding crowded bars and restaurants.
If we did those five things, we have done modeling data, we would get the same bang for the buck as if we just shut the entire economy down.
On the economic relief front, White House negotiators met with congressional Democratic leaders again. Federal jobless benefits and eviction protections are set to expire at midnight. But White House Chief of Staff Mark Meadows said the sides are still deadlocked.
The Democrats believe that they have all the cards on their side, and they are willing to play those cards at the expense of those that are hurting.
In turn, House Speaker Nancy accused Republicans and the White House of not recognizing the pandemic's severity.
Rep. Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif.:
We don't have shared values. That's just the way it is. So, it's not bickering. It's standing our ground or trying to find common ground.
With no deal in sight, House Democrats said they will cancel the August recess until they have passed a relief bill.
For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.
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Stephanie Sy is a PBS NewsHour correspondent and serves as anchor of PBS NewsHour West. Throughout her career, she served in anchor and correspondent capacities for ABC News, Al Jazeera America, CBSN, CNN International, and PBS NewsHour Weekend. Prior to joining NewsHour, she was with Yahoo News where she anchored coverage of the 2018 Midterm Elections and reported from Donald Trump’s victory party on Election Day 2016.
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