Watch live: Fauci and health officials update Senate on returning to work and school amid COVID

Republican Senator Lamar Alexander said during a hearing with top health officials Tuesday that he has urged President Trump to wear a mask in public more often, expressing dismay that wearing facial coverings has become politicized.

“I have suggested the president should occasionally wear a mask even though there are not many occasions when it is necessary for him to do so. The president has millions of admirers. They would follow his lead,” Alexander said. The president has rarely been seen wearing a mask.  

Alexander is the chairman of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee. Administration health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation’s top infectious diseases experts, are testifying Tuesday morning before the committee to offer an update on progress that’s been made in moving the nation toward returning to work and school.

Fauci, the director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, along with Admiral Brett Giroir, the assistant secretary for Health and Human Services; Dr. Stephen Hahn, the Food and Drug Administration commissioner; and Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control, are appearing before HELP Committee.

The panel is testifying as COVID-19 cases have been increasing in some states. In Florida and Texas, governors have paused or rolled back some of their reopening measures.

The panelists expressed concern about the rise in coronavirus cases across the country. In his opening statement, Redfield said hospitalizations are up in 12 states and daily deaths are up in Arizona. They also discussed the difficulties education administrators face in reopening schools in the fall. Giroir urged school leaders to follow CDC guidelines in terms of testing, facial coverings and social distancing.

Under pressing from Sanders, Giroir said he believed it would be helpful to make free masks available to all Americans. All panelists also agreed with Sanders’ premise that when a vaccine is produced, it should be made freely available to all Americans.

Fauci urged school administrators to make decisions about reopening based on what phase of reopening their state or region is in, and ensure that health guidelines are followed.

“The basic fundamental goal would be as you possibly can to get the children back to school and use the public health efforts as a tool to help the children get back to school,” Fauci said.

Fauci warned Sunday that the U.S. is not likely to achieve herd immunity to the coronavirus if a portion of the population refuses to get a vaccine once it’s available. If enough people in a population are immune to a disease, generally through vaccination, this helps suppress outbreaks and provide protection to people who are not immune. 

Fauci said in an interview that was part of the Aspen Ideas Festival that he’d “settle” for a COVID-19 vaccine that is between 70% and 75% effective.  However, with that level of effectiveness, if 25% of Americans do not get vaccinated, Fauci said it’s “unlikely” the U.S. will reach herd immunity. According to Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, the percentage of needed for herd immunity ranges between 70% to 90%, depending on how contagious a disease is.

Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force, has expressed concern and frustration lately about “a general anti-science, anti-authority, anti-vaccine feeling among some people in this country.”

On testing, which is considered to play an important role in monitoring the progress of the disease among Americans as states reopen, Giroir told a House panel last week that the U.S. is conducting around 500,000 tests per day, with the expectation that 40 to 50 million tests will be conducted per month by the fall.