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PIC: AFP

The next few weeks are critical to tamping down a disturbing coronavirus surge, Dr. Anthony Fauci told Congress on Tuesday - issuing a plea for people to avoid crowds and wear masks just hours before mask-shunning President Donald Trump was set to address a crowd of his young supporters in one hot spot.

Fauci and other top health officials also said they have not been asked to slow down virus testing, in contrast to Trump's claim last weekend that he had ordered fewer tests be performed because they were uncovering too many infections. Trump said earlier Tuesday that he wasn't kidding when he made that remark.

"We will be doing more testing," Fauci, infectious disease chief at the National Institutes of Health, pledged to a House committee conducting oversight of the Trump administration's response to the pandemic.

The leading public health officials spent more than five hours testifying before the committee at a fraught moment, with coronavirus cases rising in about half the states and political polarization competing for attention with public health recommendations.

Fauci told lawmakers he understands the pent-up desire to get back to normal as the U.S. begins emerging from months of stay-at-home orders and business shutdowns. But that has "to be a gradual step-by-step process and not throwing caution to the wind," he said.

"Plan A, don't go in a crowd. Plan B, if you do, make sure you wear a mask," Fauci said.

Troubling surges worsened Tuesday in several states, with Arizona, California, Mississippi, Nevada and Texas setting single-day records for new coronavirus cases, and some governors saying they'll consider reinstating restrictions or delaying plans to ease up in order to help slow the spread of the virus.

Arizona, where Trump was headed for a speech at a Phoenix megachurch, reported a new daily record of nearly 3,600 additional coronavirus infections Tuesday.

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