Pandemic Phase of COVID Is Over in US, Dr. Fauci Says

After over two years in the pandemic, Anthony Fauci, MD, shared some good news about where the country is headed: the US is out of the pandemic phase of COVID-19, he says in an interview on “PBS News Hour”. But that doesn’t mean the virus is completely gone. Based on lower hospitalization and death numbers, Dr. Fauci believes the US is now in a “transitional phase” between pandemic and endemic, he explained in a follow-up interview with the Washington Post. “Right now we’re at a low enough level that I believe that we’re transitioning into endemicity,” Dr. Fauci explains. “We’re not in the full-blown explosive pandemic phase. That does not mean that the pandemic is over.”

That “full-blown” pandemic phase, Dr. Fauci explains, was typified by what we experienced in 2020: ” . . . [W]e were having 900,000 cases a day, tens of thousands of hospitalizations, three thousand deaths a day.” Right now, the country is experiencing a “low level” of COVID-19, Dr. Fauci says in the PBS interview, and the ultimate hope is to keep it that way. “We’re not going to eradicate this virus,” he explains. But if we can maintain this low level and “intermittently vaccinate people,” COVID-19 could stay at a manageable place that allows for The resumption of “normal” life. Dr. Fauci adds he’s not sure how often COVID vaccines and boosters would have to be administered, whether on a yearly basis or longer, to reach that point of equilibrium.

Building upon his PBS comments, Dr. Fauci tells the Washington Post that the US is “transitioning into more of a controlled endemicity.” A disease reaches the endemic phase when it is constantly present in the population but is controlled by treatments and vaccines, according to the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention. That level stands in contrast to a pandemic, which Dr. Fauci defines as “widespread infection throughout the world.” However, Dr. Fauci notes in both interviews that the global state of COVID-19 is quite different than that of the US. “The world is still in a pandemic. There’s no doubt about that. Don’t anybody get any misinterpretation of that,” he says.

Dr. Fauci’s comments come as COVID outbreaks continue in Europe and Asia, a wave that the US appears to have missed the brunt of due to widespread immunity from the vaccine and the prevalence of the initial omicron variant. COVID is still infecting Americans, but symptoms generally appear to be milder, and although case counts are creeping up, they are not as high as they were in the initial months of the pandemic. (Dr. Fauci notes that this is at least partially due to the prevalence of at-home tests, which aren’t recorded in official case counts.) Hospitalizations are rising slightly as well, but deaths remain relatively low.

In the meantime, state and federal restrictions are all but gone. Most recently, a court struck down the federal requirement to wear a face mask on airplanes and public transit, prompting cheers and applause from passengers who received the news midflight. In an echo of Dr. Fauci’s comments, states like California have already begun transitioning to “endemic plans,” focused on preventing and rapid outbreak response rather than restrictions, to address the newest phase of the COVID crisis.

At this point, Dr. Fauci says, we will not fully eradicate COVID-19, but managing it at a low level appears feasible. To get to that stage, though, it remains crucial that Americans get vaccinated, stay up to date with their booster shots, and give themselves the best chance at avoiding or mitigating the effects of this virus.

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