(Adds comments from Biden speech, CDC director on schools)
By Paul Simao and Carl O'Donnell
WASHINGTON, June 30 (Reuters) - The United States should not bank on the availability of a safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine, the government's top infectious diseases expert said on Tuesday, and he warned that the daily surge in cases could more than double if Americans fail to take steps to get the virus under control.
California, Texas and several other states are reporting record increases in cases of the sometimes deadly illness caused by the novel coronavirus, leading to a sobering reassessment of efforts to contain it and raising the stakes for the scores of vaccine candidates being developed at unprecedented speed.
"It's extremely important to have safe and effective vaccines available for everyone in this country," Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told a U.S. Senate committee.
Fauci, however, cautioned that "there is no guarantee ... we'll have a safe and effective vaccine."
He urged Americans to adhere to social distancing guidelines and to wear masks, warning that the daily increase of new U.S. cases, currently around 40,000, could reach 100,000 without changes in behavior.
"I am very concerned because it could get very bad," he said.
His remarks dovetailed with warnings by health officials that some Americans, particularly younger adults, have let down their guard since the end of mandatory lockdowns put in place in March and April to stop the pandemic.
Several southern and western states where the virus is now surging began reopening businesses without having met government health benchmarks for doing so safely. COVID-19 cases more than doubled in June in at least 10 states, including Texas and Florida, a Reuters tally showed.
There are fears the recent spike in cases could become turbo-charged later this week by the July 4 Independence Day celebrations, when Americans traditionally flock to beaches and campgrounds and gather to watch fireworks displays.
More than 126,000 Americans have died from COVID-19 and millions have lost their jobs, as businesses and schools shut to curtail the virus. The economy contracted sharply in the first quarter and is expected to crater in the April-June period.
Los Angeles, the second-largest U.S. city, has become a new epicenter in the pandemic.
Over the weekend, California Governor Gavin Newsom ordered bars to close in seven counties, including Los Angeles, which reported nearly 3,000 new cases on Monday.
Texas shut its recently reopened bars on Friday, reflecting concerns that drinking establishments are among the riskiest non-essential businesses. On Tuesday, Texas Governor Greg Abbott expanded his order that hospitals in certain counties cancel elective procedures, freeing up beds for the surge in COVID-19 patients.
'IT DIDN'T HAVE TO BE THIS WAY'
At a separate congressional hearing on Tuesday, U.S. Treasury Secretary Steven Mnuchin said up to $140 billion in possible small business loans could be refocused on support for restaurants, hotels and other industries hit hardest by the crisis.
The fresh surge in new cases and hospitalizations has dimmed hopes that the worst of the human and economic pain had passed for the country, and renewed criticism of U.S. President Donald Trump's handling of the health crisis as he seeks re-election on Nov. 3.
Democratic presidential candidate Joe Biden on Tuesday launched a fresh attack on Trump's management of the pandemic, arguing he could have saved lives by acting earlier to control the virus.
"It didn't have to be this way," Biden said in a speech in Delaware. "Donald Trump failed us."
Biden also called for a doubling of the number of drive-through testing sites and mass hiring of contact tracers to find and isolate people who have interacted with anyone who has been infected with the coronavirus.
Despite the troubling increase in cases, Robert Redfield, director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), told the Senate hearing that schools should be reopened, with the option of closing them if there are outbreaks.
"The CDC never really recommended closing schools, it sort of just happened," Redfield said.
(Reporting by Carl O'Donnell, Trevor Hunnicutt, Simon Lewis and Saumya Joseph Writing by Paul Simao and Nathan Layne; Editing by Bill Berkrot)
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