The United States is “certainly, right now, in this country, out of the pandemic phase,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on PBS’s “NewsHour” on Tuesday.
“Namely, we don’t have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now. So if you’re saying, are we out of the pandemic phase in this country? We are,” he said.
On Wednesday, Fauci told CNN that his comments had been mischaracterized by some to mean that the pandemic is over, “which is not what I said.”
“We’re not over the pandemic. Don’t let anybody get the misinterpretation that the pandemic is over, but what we are in is a different phase of the pandemic,” he said. “A phase that’s a transition phase, hopefully headed toward more of a control where you can actually get back to some form of normality without total disruption of society, economically, socially, school-wise, etc.”
Fauci noted that, in fact, Covid-19 cases are trending up again, though it’s not anywhere near the rise we saw over the winter with the Omicron wave.
“So what we need to do is continue to be vigilant, to follow the CDC guidelines, to do the kinds of things that protect you: Get vaccinated, if you’re not vaccinated; get boosted if you’re eligible for a boost. If you do get infected, be aware that there is availability of antivirals.”
Fauci’s comments on PBS drew attention on the same day the Biden administration announced that he would not be attending the annual White House Correspondents Dinner after considering his individual risk.
“Each of us, in our own personal way, has to make an assessment of what risk you’re willing to accept about getting infected,” Fauci told CNN. “In general, the risk is low, but I made a personal assessment. I’m 81 years old, and if I get infected, I have a much higher risk.”
Covid-19 cases in the US have tumbled dramatically over the past couple of months as the Omicron wave receded.
But daily cases are still two times higher than they were for most of last summer.
New cases are ticking back up in most states, and hospitalizations have started to rise over the past week.
Fewer people are dying of Covid-19 now than during most of the pandemic, but with more than 400 deaths a day, the past two months of Covid-19 have been more deadly than most recent flu seasons.
Fauci said that although the coronavirus won’t be eradicated, the level of virus in society could be kept very low if people are intermittently vaccinated, possibly every year.
Currently, local health officials on the ground across the US are still working to get more people fully vaccinated and boosted against Covid-19.
According to Fauci, the Covid-19 situation in the United States also doesn’t necessarily reflect what’s happening in the rest of the world.
“Pandemic means a widespread, throughout the world infection that spreads rapidly among people,” Fauci said. “So if you look at the global situation, there is no doubt this pandemic is still ongoing.”
The European Commission said Wednesday that the Covid-19 pandemic is not over and that “vigilance and preparedness remain essential” as it published a set of proposals to help European countries manage the current phase and prepare for the next one.
The commission called on the 27 countries in the European Union “to strengthen their surveillance, healthcare systems, and overall pandemic preparedness” as well as “step up vaccination and boosting” and “continue targeted testing and sequencing” to accurately estimate variant circulation and detect new variants.
European Health Commissioner Stella Kyriakides said Wednesday that between 60% and 80% of the US population is estimated to have had Covid-19.
“How we prepare today for the next phase will determine the cause of the pandemic in the coming months and years,” she said.
In the US, shifting out of the pandemic is not language that Lori Tremmel Freeman, chief executive officer of the National Association of County and City Health Officials, has heard in conversations within local health departments, she said Wednesday.
But there has been a subtle shift on the ground with local health officials now returning some focus to non-Covid areas such as maternal health, childhood immunizations, tuberculosis and HIV.
“I think there are subtle shifts being made at the local level health departments to normalize the pandemic response in a way that allows them to get back to the core work of their public health departments,” Freeman said. “But those words that were used about the pandemic ending are not well-circulated in the public health area right now.”