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Here's why Dr. Fauci says the U.S. is 'out of the pandemic phase'

Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, cites the U.S. vaccination program and previous widespread transmission of COVID-19 as reasons why the country is not now under pandemic conditions. Here, travelers are seen at Miami International Airport last week, after mask requirements were lifted.
Daniel Slim
/
AFP via Getty Images
Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden, cites the U.S. vaccination program and previous widespread transmission of COVID-19 as reasons why the country is not now under pandemic conditions. Here, travelers are seen at Miami International Airport last week, after mask requirements were lifted.

Updated April 28, 2022 at 12:54 PM ET

The U.S. is no longer in the grip of the COVID-19 pandemic, despite the coronavirus's continuing global threat, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Biden. But Fauci also warns that people should still be mindful of the disease.

"We are certainly right now in this country out of the pandemic phase," Fauci said in an interview with PBS NewsHour. "Namely, we don't have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths. We are at a low level right now."

"So if you're saying, 'Are we out of the pandemic phase in this country?' — we are," he said.

But after Fauci's comments gained wide attention, he told NPR on Wednesday that he wanted to clarify what he called "some maybe understandable misinterpretation" of his remarks.

"What I'm referring to is that we are no longer in the acute fulminant accelerated phase of the outbreak," he said, referring to the terrible heights the pandemic previously reached in the U.S.

"We're in a somewhat of a transitional phase where the cases' numbers have decelerated — and hopefully we're getting to a phase of somewhat better control, where we can begin to start to resuming more easily normal activities," Fauci added.

"The United States and the entire world is still experiencing a pandemic, but there are different phases of the pandemic," he said. "And what we are in right now is somewhat of a transitional phase, out of the accelerated component into hopefully a more controlled component."

Here are some of the reasons Fauci cited for his view on where the U.S. now stands in the pandemic:

Vaccinations and infections are giving residual immunity

Fauci assessed where the country stands in its battle against COVID-19 as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention announced that because so many people in the U.S. have now caught omicron and other strains of the coronavirus, nearly 60% of the country's people — including almost 75% of children 11 and younger — now have antibodies to it in their blood.

More than two years into the pandemic, it's not surprising that antibody blood tests would show that a high percentage of the U.S. population has had the virus, Fauci said. He added that while immunity derived from infection isn't indefinite, it does give people some protection against contracting a severe case of COVID-19 in the future.

The CDC says nearly 220 million people, or 66% of the U.S. population, are fully vaccinated. Of that number, 100 million have also gotten their first booster dose.

When you combine the number of people who've been infected and those who are vaccinated, Fauci said, "you have a rather substantial proportion of the United States population that has some degree of immunity that's residual."

Even with an undercount, the U.S. is in better shape than before

"I am virtually certain that we are undercounting the number of infections" in the U.S. because many people are experiencing only mild or no symptoms, Fauci said.

Part of that dynamic is that people aren't getting tested as frequently now, and Fauci said if they test positive without showing serious symptoms, they might not be reporting it to local health agencies.

Despite a recent rise in COVID-19 cases, including a recent positive test for Vice President Harris, Fauci reiterated that hospitalization rates are rising only slowly, unlike during the surge driven by the delta variant. And the CDC's director, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, said on Tuesday that U.S. coronavirus deaths have fallen to a seven-day average of about 300 per day.

The U.S. also has more tools to prevent worst-case scenarios, such as the powerful antiviral pill Paxlovid, which cuts the risk of COVID-19 hospitalization by nearly 90% and was authorized by the Food and Drug Administration at the end of 2021.

"There are a lot of doses available," Fauci said. "We have sites where you can, as we say, test to treat, which means you can come into a place, get tested and, if you are tested, immediately get put on therapy, if they're eligible."

The coronavirus will not be going away entirely

COVID-19 has killed nearly 1 million people in the U.S. — by far the most deaths reported by any country. It has taken a particularly brutal toll on Black people and other people of color, as well as on poorer communities without easy access to health care. While the U.S. is currently in a period of comparative calm, the coronavirus is raising alarms in other parts of the world, including China.

"Pandemic means a widespread throughout-the-world infection that spreads rapidly among people," Fauci said. "So if you look at the global situation, there's no doubt this pandemic is still ongoing."

The infectious disease expert said it's "an unanswerable question" to ask when the global pandemic will end.

"We're not going to eradicate this virus," Fauci said as he looked to the future and COVID-19's global reach.

The best hope is to maintain the coronavirus at low levels of transmission and pursue intermittent vaccinations, Fauci said.

"That might be every year, that might be longer, in order to keep that level low. But, right now, we are not in the pandemic phase in this country."

As NPR's Joe Neel reported on Tuesday, "About 1.5% of the U.S. population lives in communities where there is a high prevalence of COVID-19 at the present time, with 6.5% in medium-prevalence areas and the rest (92%) in communities with low levels of COVID-19."

NPR's Rob Stein contributed to this report.

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.