Fauci says US ‘out of pandemic phase’ as cases and hospitalisations fall

‘We’re in a transitional phase ... a more controlled phase,” the chief medical adviser to the US president said

Johanna Chisholm
Wednesday 27 April 2022 20:17
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Americans can breathe a collective - but small - sigh of relief, as the president’s chief medical adviser, Dr Anthony Fauci, reassured the US that the country is now “out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase”.

Speaking to The Washington Post and PBS’s NewsHour in recent interviews this week, the infectious disease expert emphasised that though the country is not in a place where he could confidently call the pandemic over, he did believe with the current rates of hospitalisations and deaths that the public health crisis that had claimed nearly one million lives in the US could move into a more “controlled phase”.

“We’re really in a transitional phase, from deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity,” Dr Fauci told The Post.

Number of infections, he pointed out, could still begin to trend upwards, in which case government and public health officials would once again have to respond accordingly.

“The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that,” he said, but added that the country is nowhere near the level of infection that was experienced this past winter, which he called the “full-blown pandemic”.

The top doctor’s remarks arrived just after the Centers for Disease Control and Preventionreleased a new report that found that the majority of Americans have had Covid-19, including nearly three out of four children and 60 percent of the country’s adult population.

The federal agency based its findings on blood test data, which found that 189 million Americans had contracted the virus by the end of February 2022, a figure that was likely fuelled by the highly contagious Omicron variant that was rampant throughout the US in the winter months and drove millions of new infections, causing the biggest wave of cases to date.

Dr Fauci, who has served on the Covid-19 advisory team under two presidents, now serves under US President Joe Biden as chief medical adviser. Last spring, he had similarly posited that the county could begin entering a calmer, decelerated stage of the pandemic, but that hope was quickly pulled away after the introduction of highly contagious and more lethal variants, specifically Delta and Omicron, were introduced in the summer and late fall.

New cases in the US have come down sharply since the January peak when the country was recording more than 900,000 cases daily, alongside tens of thousands of hospitalisations.

But, the infectious disease expert warned, recent data shows that those numbers, which currently sit at the lowest level since the summer of 2021, are readily climbing again. A trend that Dr Fauci and other health experts attribute to the new Omicron sub variants, BA.2 and BA.2.12.1, which are proving once again to be more transmissible than their forebears.

“Right now we’re at a low enough level that I believe that we’re transitioning into endemicity,” he said, before noting that the US’s circumstances may be different than other parts of the world. “A pandemic means widespread infection throughout the world. In our country we’re transitioning into more of a controlled endemicity.”

On average, around 15,000 people in the US are hospitalised for Covid each day, a number that hasn’t been seen since the earliest days of the pandemic. Deaths from the virus remain at around 400 daily, which is a 30 percent come down from a few weeks ago.

Dr Fauci’s comments, paired with the recent findings from the CDC study, are likely going to fuel the ongoing debate in the country about how to deal with the pandemic in its current stage, a point at which most state and federal health restrictions have been relaxed, including proof of vaccinations and masking.

Providing some guidance in his interview with PBS this week, Dr Fauci noted that the coronavirus is unlikely to ever be fully eradicated, but could be handled so long as infections are kept “very low”, something he thinks can be achieved through intermittent vaccination campaigns.

Globally, however, Dr Fauci echoed the concerns of the World Health Organization and the United Nations who once again called on world leaders and pharmaceutical companies earlier this month to fulfil and accelerate their dose-sharing and donation commitments to developing countries.

Governments and pharmaceutical companies need to work together in a better way, to deliver vaccines “to every person, everywhere”, Secretary-General António Guterres said, adding that the most recent Omicron wave was evidence “of how quickly COVID-19 can mutate and spread — especially in the absence of high vaccination coverage.”

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