Thanks to its many twists and turns, the COVID-19 has made it supremely difficult to gauge when we might actually be able to declare it over. Now, as the national level of new infections has begun to plateau at a relatively high level after months of decline, some are growing concerned that the winter months could see the virus rebound again. The whiplash effect caused by case numbers surging and retreating has made people more anxious than ever to know exactly when we can finally call it quits on the pandemic. And according to Anthony Fauci, MD, chief White House COVID adviser, we still have a while to go before we can realistically put COVID behind us.
During an interview with CBS News on Nov. 14, Fauci was asked by reporter Ted Koppel if the pandemic would only be able to end when people began to care less about its effects. He responded by putting a number on how much further we have to go before society can move on from the virus and resume a relatively normal life.
“We are now at 70,000 to 75,000 cases a day and over a thousand deaths,” Fauci replied. “That is an unacceptable point to say, ‘We’ve got to live with it.’ Absolutely. If you get it way, way, way, way down below that, well below 10,000 a day, that may be something that we can ultimately live with. So to say that, ‘Yes, we’re just going to stop caring,’ we’ve got to be careful and make sure that stop caring when you don’t notice it, not stop caring when it’s still killing a thousand people a day in the United States.”
Koppel then compared our response to the COVID to the flu, pointing out that the seasonal flu was sometimes responsible for more than 30,000 deaths annually until as recently as a few years ago. When asked if such outcomes were acceptable, Fauci bristled at the comparison, replying: “No, it’s not. The difference between influenza and COVID-19 is that we don’t have a very good vaccine against influenza. So, we cannot accept a high level of deaths to COVID-19 when we have a vaccine that could prevent it.”
Fauci, who will turn 81 in a matter of weeks, also said that he wouldn’t lose sight of his goals or step away from his position until the pandemic reached the level where it was safe to do so. “I’m the head of an institute that actually played the major role in the development of the vaccines that have saved now millions of lives from COVID-19,” he said. “I’m the director of the institute that has now been very important in the basic research in leading to the drugs that will now have an important impact in the treatment of COVID-19. That’s what I do. So, I’m going to keep doing that until this COVID-19 outbreak is in the rearview mirror.”
Fauci’s comments come days after a Nov. 12 interview on The New York Times‘ podcast The Daily, during which he spoke to host Michael Barbaro about the current state of COVID in the U.S. and how the landscape may change as we head into winter. He explained that the situation appeared to be a “mixed bag” overall at the moment, with COVID seeming to head in the right direction as a few warning signs have begun to emerge.
“When it starts to not get so steep and then plateau, then you might find yourself in the uncomfortable situation where you plateau where we are right now, which is at about 70 to 73 thousand cases a day, which is obviously not optimal, but also is a set-up to have a resurgence upon that very high baseline,” Fauci warned.
Ultimately, Fauci said that “all pandemics burn themselves out,” but pointed out that it would be a worst-case scenario to let the virus continue to churn unabated while “we have highly effective safe tools to end it” without sacrificing more lives. “We’ve lost 750,000 Americans thus far, we have 46 million infections, likely more, since many go undetected, and we know what we can do,” he told Barbaro.
“In the modern age of biomedical research and public health interventions, you can mitigate the ultimate negative impact of outbreaks,” Fauci reiterated. “In 1918, we had the pandemic flu, it burned itself out ultimately, so you have a choice. Do you want it to burn itself out and kill a lot more people and make a lot more people sick, or do you want to do something about it to prevent further deaths and further illness? At the end of the day, this is gonna end one way or another. The preferable way, if you just think about it for a moment, is to do whatever we can to minimize the suffering and the death. And we have within our power to do it. If we don’t utilize it, then bad things are gonna happen.”