The coronavirus pandemic continues, and as we head into the holidays and winter season, virus experts worry we may face more spikes, if not another surge. Concerned for your safety, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical advisor to the President and the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, joined STAT’s Helen Branswell at the 2021 STAT Summit to discuss the past year and what to expect in the months ahead. Read on for five pieces of life saving advice—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don’t miss these Sure Signs You’ve Already Had COVID.
Dr. Fauci Warned Cases are Not Going Down
“It isn’t a one day stall,” said Fauci of COVID-19 cases no longer going down. “It’s a multiple week stall. So we’ve got to continue to get it go down because I think, if we go into the winter and we’re at 70,000 cases per day with a variant that is extremely efficient and spreading from person to person, the somewhat unnerving aspect of it is that if you keep the level of dynamics of the virus in the community at a high level, obviously the people who are most, most vulnerable are the unvaccinated, but when you have a virus as transmissible at Delta, in the context of waning immunity, that dynamic is going to negatively impact even the vaccinated people. So it’s a double whammy. The unvaccinated are clearly highly vulnerable, but as long as you get a high dynamic, the virus in the population, you’re going to start seeing breakthrough infections even more so than we see now among the vaccinated. So bottom line, short answer. If we do all the things that I said, booster people, vaccinated or unvaccinated, keeping mitigation, don’t pull back on masking on indoor situations. The way some of our European colleagues did and have resulted in some surges in certain countries, we can get through the winter reasonably well, if you don’t do that, I think we’re in for some trouble.”
Dr. Fauci Said Here’s When We’d Be Out of the Pandemic Phase
When will we be in control of this pandemic? “I don’t think we will know for sure until it happens,” said Dr. Fauci. “It’s one of those things where you have to keep pushing and pushing and pushing until you get down to the lowest level possible….You have the pandemic phase, the celebration phase, the control, the elimination phase and the eradication. I don’t think anybody imagines even aspirationally that we’re going to eradicate this. We’ve only eradicated smallpox elimination. I think given the high degree of transmissibility and the prevalence of this throughout the world, it is truly a pandemic that unlike polio, which we eliminated in this country and unlike measles, which we have eliminated except for an occasional pocket of a very enclosed group, that under vaccinates that you might have an outbreak.”
“So what we’re talking about,” he continued, “is control and control has a wide bracket. You can control at a level in which you’re controlling it in that it’s not going up, but the level is so high that it continues to negatively impact societies, interaction, the workplace, feeling safe, the hospital burden, et cetera. Then there’s a level of control low enough that it’s there, but you barely notice it. I mean, it isn’t gone completely, but you have enough people vaccinated enough people who have post-infection induced immunity, you boost enough people that there’s a good deal of protection and you don’t see cases blip up, but they’re not going to have an impact. Like right now we have 70,000 plus cases a day. If you were going to call that control, that’s really bad control. It’s too high. So there are numbers that are thrown around in the past: I’ve said, it’s gotta be less than 10,000 total. The CDC has said, and it’s really an empiric statement that when you get to 10 cases, per hundred thousand population, then you have pretty good control of the outbreak. So if you do the math, 10 per hundred thousand, if you then divide that into the 328 million people in the country, that gets you to about 3,300 infections a day. So I think if we can get well below 10,000, I think that would be a level that I think would be acceptable to us to get back to a degree of normality. But again… these are not definitive statements. These are just estimates.” He said we could influence the trajectory by getting more Americans vaccinated.
Dr. Fauci Says Beating COVID Depends on These Factors
“We’ve done a rather good job of vaccinating people, particularly the elderly, you know, 85% of the people who are greater than 65 have been fully vaccinated.,” said Fauci. “And over 95% of the people who are elderly greater than 65 have at least one dose, close to 60% of the population is vaccinated, some odd 58%. But then there’s the issue of these other confounding factors. The confounding factor is we still have 60 million people—at least the adults, not counting the 28 million, five to 11—but we have about 60 million people in the country or eligible to be vaccinated who are not vaccinated. We have waning immunity, which if you look at the data from Israel, it’s very clear in my mind that it wanes….at all ages. And you’re going to see a waning of immunity that impacts not only cases, but ultimately hospitalization. So therefore it’s going to depend on a few things, a how well we get those 60 million people who are recalcitrant now to getting vaccinated, how do we get the willing among them to step forward and get back stated how well the mandates work to get people vaccinated and how well we implement a booster program. Those are all the things that are, you know, their dynamics. And you could do, let’s say there are five factors. If you do well on five out of five, I think we’re going to do very well. And we’ll continue to come down right now, as you know, as well as anybody, if not better, that the deflection of the diminution in cases has really stalled at around 70,000.”
Dr. Fauci Has This Message for Anti-Vaxxers
“It is painful and frustrating to me as a public health person, as a physician who takes care of people and sees firsthand what disease and death is repetitively….It just doesn’t make any sense. It’s almost inexplicable, but it is what we are dealing with. So if you look at the unvaccinated, not every one of the unvaccinated are people who are diehards, I’m just not going to get vaccinated. There are those who still don’t have as much information as they need to make a decision. There are some who feel it’s inconvenient to get vaccinated. So what are the things we can do? Short of mandate. We can continue to try to utilize what I call when everybody calls trusted messengers to deliver the message of why it’s important. Particularly people who’ve been vaccinated, who they trust clergy, physicians, pediatricians, family members, that’s number one.”
“The other is a situation where they, they, they, they have unanswered questions and it’s up to us to answer the questions, to continue to keep them getting data that’s real data” said Dr. Fauci. “Then there’s the issue. As we set up mandates, we understand that people don’t like to be told by anybody to do something that they may not want to do, but there is something that people need to realize when they just think about it. You are not in a vacuum when you were in the middle of a pandemic, you were part of a community. And even if you feel it doesn’t matter if you get infected because you feel well, I’ll take my chances. Particularly if I’m young, the likelihood of my getting a serious outcome is not very high, but it doesn’t stop with you because you are part of the propagation of the dynamics of the outbreak.”
“And even though you may not get seriously ill,” he said, “then you could spread it to someone else who might be one of the people will get hospitalized and become one of the 750,000 people in this country have died. So you’ve got to have some feeling and obligation of societal responsibility, which somehow has been lost in this equation on people.”
How to Stay Safe Out There
Follow the public health fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don’t travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don’t go indoors with people you’re not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don’t visit any of these 35 Places You’re Most Likely to Catch COVID.