Preparing for the arrival of the holidays is typically a joyous occasion, with the anticipation of reuniting with loved ones and celebrating lifting spirits. But even though much has changed since this time last year, a recent shift in the trajectory of the pandemic has some top health officials concerned for the coming weeks and months as people travel and gather in tight quarters. And according to Anthony Fauci, MD, chief White House COVID adviser, there’s not much time left to prevent a “dangerous” surge of the virus as winter approaches.
During an appearance on CNN’s State of the Union on Nov. 21, Fauci warned that there was still a chance for us to ensure the upcoming holiday season doesn’t bring about another overwhelming wave of new cases. Namely, he urged eligible to seek out their booster shots and for children between the ages of five and 11 who recently became eligible for vaccines to get their doses as soon as possible.
“We still have about 60 million people in this country who are eligible to be vaccinated who have not been, and that results in the dynamic of virus in the community that not only is dangerous and makes people who are unvaccinated vulnerable, but it also spills over into the vaccinated people,” Fauci said.
Fauci’s comments come as a mounting number of new infections has caused growing concern about the pandemic’s trajectory. After steadily decreasing from an early September high created by a Delta-variant-fueled summer surge, the national seven-day average plateaued between 70,000 and 75,000 before beginning to rise once again to 93,689 as of Nov. 21, according to data from The New York Times.
“We have a lot of virus circulating around,” he cautioned. “You can’t walk away from the data, and the data show that the cases are starting to go up, which is not unexpected when you get into a winter season. People start to go indoors more, and we know that immunity does wane over time.”
Other health officials have also expressed concerns about how the holiday season could affect case numbers. During an appearance on CBS’ Face the Nation the same day, Scott Gottlieb, MD, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), warned precautions were still necessary even in areas of the U.S. that weren’t already seeing drastic spikes.
“I think we need to be mindful that when we lift these restrictions, we may have to reimplement them if things worsen,” he cautioned. “Right now, we’re better in this country than we were a year ago. There were 170,000 cases on a seven-day average a year ago from today, we had about 77,000 people hospitalized, so we’re in a better circumstance. But we’re probably not as good as we should be, given all the tools we have between the vaccines and the highly effective drugs, and also how much infection we’ve had in this country and how much immunity is already in place.
Later on during his interview, Fauci suggested that families who were fully vaccinated could spend the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday together without having to wear masks, adding that he was planning on doing that with his family. However, he cautioned anyone traveling or who is unsure of the vaccine status of anyone around you should don a face covering to protect themselves and others.
“Get vaccinated and you can enjoy the holidays very easily. And if you’re not, please be careful,” Fauci said. “Get tested if you need to get tested when you’re getting together, but that’s not a substitute for getting vaccinated. Get yourself vaccinated and you can continue to enjoy interactions with your family and others.”