Dr. Fauci: The Country Is ‘Out of the Pandemic’ Phase—Here’s What That Means

Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in an interview on Tuesday that after more than two years since the first U.S. COVID-19 case, the country can finally look forward to a new chapter. “We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase,” Dr. Fauci said during an interview with PBS NewsHour on Tuesday. But what does this actually mean, given the virus is clearly still in circulation? 

U.S. cases are currently at an average of 47,407, which is low compared to when the seven-day moving average of new cases peaked at 745,358 on January 17, 2022, but certainly not the lowest they have been. During the past few months, cases increased as the omicron subvariant BA.2 swept through the population, becoming the dominant COVID-19 variant in the world, according to The World Health Organization (WHO). According to Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) data, as of April 23, BA.2 was estimated to make up 68% of COVID-19 cases in the U.S. BA.2 is considered to be about 30% more contagious than BA.1, the original omicron variant, as per research estimates confirmed by the WHO. 

Fortunately, with the uptick in available tests, the majority of the population being fully vaccinated, and the authorization of effective antiviral pills, the country is better equipped to manage the pandemic than it ever has been. “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, either residual from prior infection, or hopefully people who are getting vaccinated and boosted,” Dr. Fauci said on Tuesday. According to the CDC, 58% of people in the U.S. have been infected with COVID-19, and 66% of people have been fully vaccinated. 

“We don’t have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now,” Dr. Fauci, who has managed the country’s response to the pandemic across the Trump and Biden administration, said on Tuesday. “So, if you’re saying, are we out of the pandemic phase in this country, we are. What we hope to do, I don’t believe — and I have spoken about this widely — we’re not going to eradicate this virus,” Dr. Fauci said. His recent statement echoes what he said in February when he announced that it was time for the U.S. to take steps back towards normality. “The fact that the world and the United States—and particularly certain parts of the United States—are just up to here with COVID—they just really need to somehow get their life back,” Dr. Fauci said in an interview with Reuters. “You don’t want to be reckless and throw everything aside, but you’ve got to start inching towards that.” As he has steered the country through the pandemic, being the face of the White House’s COVID-19 Response Team, he was sure to balance his optimism with a degree of practicality. “There is no perfect solution to this,” Dr. Fauci said. 

As health experts have recommended since the first vaccine was authorized, the best way to keep COVID-19 cases at a minimum is to continue vaccinating people. “That might be every year, that might be longer, in order to keep that level low,” Dr. Fauci said of vaccination. Last month, the FDA approved a second booster shot for people aged 50 years and older as well as for immunocompromised people aged 12 years and older. There is no information yet on whether this will be rolled out for other age groups, but given what Dr. Fauci has said about continuing vaccinations for a “longer” period of time, this could well be the case.