While the COVID-19 virus has not been eradicated, the ongoing pandemic is moving “in the right direction” toward the virus being a relatively minor threat, Dr. Anthony Fauci said Tuesday.
Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, argued in a discussion hosted by the University of Southern California that the so-called “end” of the pandemic is relative.
“If you look at where we are now, with the number of cases, hospitalizations and deaths compared to several months ago, when we were averaging between 800,000 and 900,000 cases and between 3,000 and 4,000 deaths (per day), we’re not at that point now. We’re much, much lower,” he said.
“Relatively speaking it’s less, but … I have been very public about saying that I’m not comfortable with having 300 to 400 deaths per day,” Fauci said.
According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, an average of 322 people in the U.S. have died per day from COVID in the previous seven days as of Monday.
Fauci added that to continue quelling the virus, it will be important for people who are eligible for a booster vaccine dose to receive the recently approved vaccines that target subvariant strains of the virus’ omicron variant.
“Although we can feel good that we’re going in the right direction, we can’t let our guard down,” he said.
Fauci, who is retiring in December, also assessed his messaging over the prior two-and-a-half years, during which time he became a figurehead for the federal response to the pandemic.
He suggested he should’ve been “much, much more careful” with his messaging early in the pandemic, when he advised people to avoid using masks to prevent a shortage of them for public health workers.
Fauci also initially argued against a large-scale shutdown when just a handful of cases had been confirmed in the U.S.
“I probably should have tried to be much, much more careful in getting the message to repeat the uncertainty of what we were going through,” he said.
“If we knew then that this virus, under the radar screen, was transmitting in a way that was not fully appreciated and any of us would have said, ‘we’ve had five cases in the country, we need to shut down,’ people would have looked at us like we were crazy,” he added. “But maybe that was the right message back then, I don’t know.”
Fauci argued the country must close health inequities in the coming years like those seen during the pandemic. Black, Hispanic, Asian and indigenous populations have often had higher COVID case and death rates than white residents in the U.S.
He also noted the health inequities that pre-dated the pandemic, such as increased instances of health issues like diabetes, obesity and chronic liver and kidney conditions.
“Those are not racially determined,” he said. “Those are due to social determinants of health. We need a decades-long commitment to overcome that.”