Washington — Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, warned Sunday the nation could be at risk of a new surge of COVID-19 infections as the number of daily cases in the U.S. has remained at a plateau.
“When you’re coming down from a big peak and you reach a point and start to plateau, once you stay at that plateau, you’re really in danger of a surge coming up,” Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview with “Face the Nation.” “And unfortunately, that’s what we’re starting to see.”
While the nation experienced a sharp decline in coronavirus cases from January to early March, the number of daily new infections has hovered between roughly 50,000 and 60,000, according to data from the Centers for Diseases Control and Prevention (CDC). On Friday, the number of new cases reached 71,593, as 30 states and the District of Columbia reported a rise in infections.
A leveling-off at such a high rate of infection is “a risk,” Fauci said.
While new coronavirus variants identified in the United Kingdom and South Africa are “playing a part” in the spikes of new cases, Fauci said, an increase in travel for spring break and rolling back of mitigation methods have also contributed.
“Several states have done that. I believe it’s premature,” he said of lifting measures such as mask mandates.
The rising COVID-19 infections comes amid the Biden administration’s efforts to accelerate the pace of coronavirus vaccinations. To more quickly deliver shots into the arms of Americans, the federal government has begun supplying vaccine doses directly to pharmacies and community health centers, and last week announced a $10 billion commitment to ensure the vaccines are being distributed equitably.
President Biden announced Thursday he doubled the nation’s goal of vaccinations within his first 100 days in office to 200 million doses. The U.S. is now administering between 3 and 3.5 million vaccines daily, and 140 million doses total have been administered, according to the CDC. More than 27% of the entire U.S. population has received at least one dose of their COVID-19 vaccines — vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna require two shots, while Johnson & Johnson’s requires just one.
Fauci said that if the U.S. continues at a pace of more than 3 million daily doses administered, “invariably that’s going to drive the rate and the level of infections per day to a much, much lower level.”
“If we get into the summer and you have a considerable percentage of of the population vaccinated and the level in the community gets below that plateau that’s worrying me and my colleagues in public health, it is conceivable that you would have a good degree of flexibility during the summer, even with the children, with things like camps,” he said. “We don’t know that for sure, but I think that’s an aspirational goal that we should go for.”
Fauci predicted that there will be an incremental easing of some coronavirus restrictions heading into the late spring and early summer as more Americans receive their vaccines.
“There are 50 million people in this country that are fully vaccinated. That’s a lot of people. And every day we get more and more,” he said. “I would expect that as we get through the summer, late spring, early summer, there’s going to be a relaxation where you’re going to have more and more people who will be allowed into baseball parks, very likely separated with seating, very likely continuing to wear masks. As we get a really, really low level of infection, you’re going to start seeing a pulling back on some of those restrictions, I hope. And I think that’s going to happen. I think if we do it correctly and we get the vaccines out at the rate we’re doing, that will happen.”