As summer draws nearer, people across the country have already booked vacations, planned large events, and otherwise filled their schedule in ways that they might not have been able to over the past two years. But as ready as we are for the pandemic to be over, COVID has other plans. Despite infections declining steadily for months, numbers are back on the rise. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), cases in the country have increased by more than 25 percent in just the last week alone. Thankfully, experts have reiterated that we’re far from back to square one.
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During a May 2 interview with Foreign Policy, top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, broke down where we are right now in the pandemic and what we might expect in the future. According to the virus expert, who also serves as the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), the U.S. is currently transitioning away from a full-blown coronavirus pandemic.
“We are still in the middle of a pandemic, to be sure—there’s no confusion about that. But when I say we’re out of the acute fulminant stage right now, what I mean is that cases have gone down dramatically,” Fauci explained to Ravi Agrawal of Foreign Policy, noting that infections have fallen from 900,000 to around just 15,000 a day. “Our numbers of deaths per day are down to one-tenth of what they were, [and] we have many less hospitalizations,” Fauci added.
Of course infections are moving in the wrong direction, as indicated by the latest data from the CDC. But even with cases increasing, Fauci noted that “they’re not going up in a very steep, fulminant way and they’re not associated with a concomitant increase in hospitalizations or the utilization of intensive care unit beds.”
A similar trend was recently seen in the United Kingdom and other European countries, where the spread of the BA.2 variant caused an uptick in cases without a significant spike in hospitalizations. According to Fauci, there is one major factor keeping this recent rise in infections away from a full-blown surge: immunity.
“What that’s telling us is that 90-plus percent of our population has either been vaccinated and boosted or has gotten infected—or both,” he explained. “This is not protecting us specifically from infection, but it seems to be protecting us from that surge of hospitalizations that stressed the health care system during previous eras of this pandemic.”
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Unfortunately, many experts—including Fauci himself—have expressed concern that the situation could take a turn once we move into the second half of the year. “It is likely that we will see a surge in the fall,” Fauci previously said during an April 6 interview with Bloomberg TV. “I would think that we should expect that we are going to see some increase in cases as you get to the colder weather in the fall.”
When speaking with Foreign Policy, Fauci said that he hopes “we don’t see a major uptick [in cases] as we get into the fall,” adding that there is one way to potentially avoid that scenario: vaccination. “We’re going to have to wait and see, which is the reason why we’re still encouraging people to get vaccinated,” he said.
It’s not all on the unvaccinated, however. For those who have already gotten two shots, Fauci warned that it is likely time to get a third dose. According to the CDC, a mRNA booster is recommended for anyone 12 years and older who is at least five months out from their second shot (or at least two months out from their first dose if they received the one-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine). Out of all those eligible for a booster shot, around 50 percent have not yet gotten an additional dose, per the CDC.
“If you have been vaccinated and are eligible for a booster, make sure to get it,” Fauci warned. “Now.”
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