After more than a year and a half of ups and downs, it feels as though the goal of ending the COVID-19 pandemic once and for all is still just out of reach. Top experts such as Anthony Fauci, MD, chief White House health adviser, have called the recent plateauing of the national daily case average “disconcerting,” especially as other areas of the U.S. are beginning to see infections rise once again. But even as numbers rebound, Fauci predicted that COVID would eventually be under control if we could reach a particular milestone.
During a Nov. 15 appearance on CNBC, Fauci told anchor Shepard Smith that getting daily case counts below a certain level would likely allow us to get a handle on the pandemic. “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,” Fauci said. “But again, I have to warn the listeners, these are not definitive statements—these are just estimates.”
Earlier in the day, Fauci was even more specific with numbers during a video interview at the 2021 STAT Summit, predicting that cases would have to drop as low as 3,300 per day before COVID would genuinely be under control. Unfortunately, the latest health data shows national cases are currently headed in the wrong direction: After plateauing between 70,000 and 75,000 for three weeks, last week’s daily average jumped 14 percent to 83,500 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University analyzed by CNBC.
But despite the long road to bringing down cases, Fauci is confident that continuing to administer vaccine shots to the public could help achieve that goal within a matter of months. “Look what other countries are doing now about adopting a booster campaign virtually for everybody,” he told the STAT Summit. “I think if we do that, and we do it in earnest, I think by the spring we can have pretty good control of this.”
Fauci went on to say he disagreed with some critics who believe the virus is already at a point where society can live with its effects. “I don’t want to sit back when we have 70,000 to 85,000 new infections a day and say, ‘Oh, well, we can’t do any better than that. Let’s live with that.’ Sorry, that’s not where we want to be,” he said. “For me, endemicity means a lot more people get vaccinated, a lot more people get boosted, and although you don’t eliminate or eradicate it, that infection is not dominating your life,” he said.
The top health adviser also described what the new normal would look like once cases were brought down to an acceptable level. “People will still get infected. People might still get hospitalized, but the level would be so low that we don’t think about it all the time and it doesn’t influence what we do,” he told the STAT 2021 Summit.
But until that point, Fauci warned Smith that the U.S. could be “in for some trouble” as winter approached with case levels as high as they currently are—and especially as public safety measures are being peeled away. “The unvaccinated are clearly highly vulnerable, but as long as you get a high dynamic of virus in the population, you’re going to start seeing breakthrough infections, even more so than we see now,” Fauci warned.