COVID cases have been declining in the U.S., falling from the high peaks they reached over the summer. But the question of where the pandemic goes from here is up in the air as the country heads into the winter. Last year in 2020, the winter months brought about a massive surge thanks to holiday travel and indoor gatherings. White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, recently offered his predictions about the COVID pandemic ahead of the coldest season, noting that while things are headed in the right direction, the steepness of declining cases is not as promising as it was a month or so ago. But that’s not the only concern the infectious disease expert has right now.
During a Nov. 10 press briefing with the White House COVID Response Team and public health officials, Fauci discussed what concerns there are for COVID variants in the U.S. as the country heads into the winter. According to the infectious disease expert, the Delta variant “still overwhelmingly dominates” the country.
“Right now, our problem is the Delta variant, without a doubt,” Fauci said during the briefing. He added that the Delta variant still causes around 99 percent of all COVID cases in the U.S. at the moment.
Fauci also said that officials are still “very alert” in watching out for the emergence of other new variants. “We always keep our eye out for any variant that’s out there to determine whether or not it is overtaking in prevalence or not,” he said.
Currently, officials are investigating a newly-discovered mutation of the Delta variant, referred to as Delta Plus. But in late October, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, told NBC News that Delta Plus had not taken off in the U.S., as the country has only seen a handful of cases of this subvariant.
“We don’t expect there to be any emergence of a variant that’s going to outstrip the capability of Delta,” Fauci previously said during an Oct. 13 White House COVID Response Team press briefing.
According to Fauci, more vaccinations can help prevent any new variants from having the opportunity to surge like Delta, as all three vaccines are still highly effective against most variants. The CDC recently said that there is no evidence that Delta Plus evades our current vaccines, in a statement to Business Insider. But Fauci offered assurance that health officials will continue to make sure no variant completely evades vaccine effectiveness.
“When we do get a new variant, we always do studies to see whether or not they evade, or not, monoclonal antibodies or convalescent plasma or the antibodies that are induced by vaccines,” Fauci said during the Nov. 10 briefing.
According to the CDC, 58.5 percent of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, as of Nov. 10. But Fauci noted that there are still around 66 million people eligible for vaccination who have not yet gotten a shot.
“A virus will not mutate or form a variant unless you give it the opportunity to replicate. So, as long as you get … control of the dynamics of virus in the community, which is best done by getting the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, then we can prevent the emergence of new, troublesome variants,” Fauci explained during the Oct. 13 briefing.