Fauci says U.S. is transitioning out of ‘pandemic phase’

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Dr. Anthony Fauci, White House Chief Medical Advisor and Director of the NIAID, responds to questions from Sen. Rand Paul (R-KY) at a Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee hearing on Capitol Hill on January 11, 2022 in Washington, D.C.
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Dr. Anthony Fauci expressed optimism about the state of the pandemic in the U.S. on Tuesday.

“We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase,” Fauci, the White House’s chief medical adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told PBS NewsHour.

He later told The Washington Post that the U.S. had entered the “control” stage of the pandemic, since the coronavirus is causing far lower levels of hospitalizations and deaths than during the winter omicron surge.

Fauci has previously described five phases of the pandemic. The first, a full-blown pandemic, is where the U.S. spent most of the last two years. The second is deceleration, and the third is control, which indicates that the virus is becoming endemic in the population.

After this should come elimination and eradication, though the virus will probably never be eradicated, Fauci told PBS.

Fauci, who is President Joe Biden’s top covid adviser, told The Post that entering a new phase doesn’t mean the entire pandemic is over.

“The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that. We are still experiencing a pandemic,” he said.

Fauci, 81, decided not to attend this weekend’s White House Correspondents’ Dinner due to concerns about his own Covid risk.

The U.S. is recording around 51,000 Covid cases and just under 400 deaths per day, on average, according to NBC News’ tally. But that case average has risen 49 percent in the last two weeks, even as infections go undercounted due to the common use of at-home tests.

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Still, many people in the U.S. have some form of immunity that should protect them from severe disease, Fauci said.

“If you add up the people who’ve been infected plus the people who’ve been vaccinated and hopefully boosted, you have a rather substantial proportion of the United States population that has some degree of immunity that’s residual,” he told PBS NewsHour.

A Monday report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 58 percent of the U.S. had evidence of a prior coronavirus infection as of February, based on tens of thousands of blood samples. Sixty-six percent of the country is fully vaccinated and 46 percent of the population has been boosted, according to the CDC.

Globally, there are around 674,000 average Covid cases per day, though worldwide cases have declined 35 percent in the last two weeks, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The World Health Organization recorded its lowest weekly global death total since March 2020 last week, at just over 15,000.

However, WHO officials said in a Monday briefing that many more Covid deaths could still be prevented. Around 40 percent of the global population is not fully vaccinated, according to Our World in Data.

“We’re in a different phase of this pandemic, certainly, but we are still very much in the middle of this pandemic,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical lead on Covid.

The risk of new, dangerous variants also persists, WHO leaders said. Insufficient testing and surveillance could make it difficult to spot new variants, they added.

“As many countries reduce testing, WHO is receiving less and less information about transmission and sequencing,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said. “This makes us increasingly blind to patterns of transmission and evolution, but this virus won’t go away just because countries stopped looking for it. It’s still spreading, it’s still changing, and it’s still killing. The threat of a dangerous new variant remains very real.”

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