The US has far too many cases of the coronavirus to see an end to the pandemic, Dr Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Axios in an interview published on Thursday.
“The endgame is to suppress the virus,” Fauci said. “Right now, we’re still in pandemic mode, because we have 160,000 new infections a day.”
The seven-day average of new cases declined slightly from the previous week, to 140,000 cases, although it’s possible reported case numbers are low given two holidays this week. Rates this high make it impossible to return to some semblance of normal life, Fauci said.
“In a country of our size, you can’t be hanging around and having 100,000 infections a day. You’ve got to get well below 10,000 before you start feeling comfortable,” he said.
This benchmark is a familiar one. In an August 2020 interview with the Journal of the American Medical Association, Fauci warned that cases needed to fall below 10,000 per day. At the time, they hovered around 50,000, before surging to a peak of almost 300,000 cases a day in January.
In March of this year, Fauci cautioned against loosening restrictions before cases fell to 10,000, “and maybe even considerably less than that”. Even so, states forged ahead with reopening plans, which Fauci called “inexplicable”. Fauci continued pointing to 10,000 cases or less as a benchmark for ending the pandemic.
Even in June, the lowest point of the pandemic, the lowest average in the US was more than 11,000 cases a day. Now, with the arrival of the highly transmissible Delta variant and the continued lack of precautions against the virus, cases have spiked in recent months.
“That’s not even modestly good control,” Fauci told Axios, “which means it’s a public health threat.”
Vaccines are still crucial to suppressing the virus, Fauci said. When a high proportion of the population is protected by vaccines, “you’ll still get some people getting infected, but you’re not going to have it as a public health threat.”
At this time, however, just a little more than half the US population is fully vaccinated.