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March 15, 2021

Why Fauci is warning of another potential coronavirus surge

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Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, on Sunday said Europe's recent surge in novel coronavirus cases should serve as a warning for the United States that pulling back coronavirus-related restrictions now could jeopardize President Biden's prediction that America will return to mostly normal by the Fourth of July.

Good? Bad? Ugly? We've updated our take on what's next for the epidemic.

Fauci says pulling back mitigation measures could 'endanger' progress in America's coronavirus epidemic

During an interview on Fox's "Fox News Sunday," Fauci, the chief medical advisor for the White House's Covid-19 response, said coronavirus cases have recently spiked throughout Europe partly due to the relaxation of public health measures intended to curb the virus's transmission.

Fauci during an interview on CNN's "State of the Union" said, "They had a diminution of cases, they plateaued, and they pulled back on public health measures. You see the pictures in the paper and on TV." He added, "They have opened the restaurants. They have opened some of the bars. The younger people particularly stopped wearing masks, and then, all of a sudden, you have a surge that went right back up."

However, Fauci on "Fox News Sunday" said the United States could avoid experiencing a similar fate as long as states don't prematurely roll back Covid-19 mitigation measures.

"If you wait just a bit longer to give [America's] vaccine program the chance to increase the protection in the community, then it makes pulling back much less risky," said Fauci said. "But if you do it prematurely there really is a danger of triggering another surge."

Fauci called recent decisions by state governors—including Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R) and Mississippi Gov. Tate Reeves (R)—to lift mask mandates and reopen businesses without capacity limits "risky and potentially dangerous."

"When you see [infections] plateauing at a level of anywhere between 50,000 and 65,000 cases a day, that is absolutely no time to declare victory, because we know from previous surges that we've had over the year that when you see that leveling off at a high level, there's always the risk of a surge back up."

If cases surge, Fauci said, "that would endanger [Biden's] goal of getting people much more toward normal in the beginning of the summer." Biden during his first primetime address on Thursday said there's a "good chance" Americans "will be able to get together … [to] celebrate Independence Day" if they continue to practice mitigation measures and get vaccinated as soon as they're eligible.

When asked on "State of the Union" about what questions remain about the pandemic, Fauci mentioned new, more contagious variants of the coronavirus. Fauci said, "[T]he best way that we can avoid any threat from variants is do two things: get as many people vaccinated as quickly as we possibly can, and … continue with the public health measures, until we get this broad umbrella of protection over society."

On Friday, the United States reached the milestone of having administered more than 100 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines, CDC data shows. As of Monday morning, the federal government had distributed about 135.8 million doses of the country's authorized Covid-19 vaccines. Of those, about 107.1 million doses had been administered in the United States. That total includes about 69.8 million people who have received "at least one dose" of a vaccine and about 37.5 million who've been "fully vaccinated," the data shows.

Where America's coronavirus epidemic stands

Recent data indicates America's coronavirus epidemic has improved since January's peak, with reported numbers of cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all declining—although they remain high.

According to data compiled by the New York Times, U.S. officials on Sunday reported about 38,034 new cases of the novel coronavirus. As of Monday morning, officials had reported about 29.4 million cases since the United States' epidemic began.

According to the Times, the United States' average daily number of newly reported coronavirus cases over the past week was 54,832—down by 19% compared with the average from two weeks ago.

However, the Times' data showed that, as of Monday morning, the rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying high" in Washington, D.C., and 14 states that have reported a daily average of at least 15 newly reported cases per 100,000 people over the past week. Those states are Alaska, Colorado, Idaho, Massachusetts, Michigan, Minnesota, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New York, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, South Dakota, Vermont, and West Virginia.

In addition, the rate of newly reported coronavirus cases was "going up" as of Monday morning in Missouri, which has had comparatively lower case rates, the Times reports.

According to the data, rates of newly reported coronavirus cases were "staying low" or declining from previously higher rates in the remaining U.S. states and territories.

Meanwhile, data from the Times shows there were 43,254 Americans with Covid-19 hospitalized for treatment on Sunday—down by 23% compared with the average from two weeks ago.

Further, data from the Times shows that U.S. officials reported about 572 new deaths linked to the coronavirus on Sunday. As of Monday morning, officials had reported about 534,476 U.S. deaths linked to the virus since the country's epidemic began.

(Macias, CNBC, 3/14; Perrano, Axios, 3/12; Parthasarathy, Politico, 3/14; Rabin, New York Times, 3/14; New York Times, 3/15; CDC vaccination data, updated 3/14).

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