On Sunday, the White House’s chief medical adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said he was “as confident as you can be” that Omicron cases across the U.S. will peak in February, as case numbers appear to have crested in some regions of the country.
“Things are looking good. We don’t want to be overconfident, but they look like they’re going in the right direction right now,” Fauci told ABC on Sunday.
In other countries, such as South Africa and the U.K., Omicron waves have increased faster and descended speedier than surges of previous variants. With Omicron tentatively in retreat in the U.S., Fauci says the next step in the “long term strategy” of living with COVID is to get the spread of infection to a “level of control” and keep it there.
“Control means you’re not eliminating it, you’re not eradicating it, but it gets down to such a low level, that it’s essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections that we have learned to live with,” Fauci says. But living with the virus is not a return to pre-pandemic normal; it will require Americans to incorporate four defenses— vaccines, testing, masks, and therapies—into their everyday lives, Fauci says.
At this stage, there are reams of data that indicate how effective vaccines are in preventing severe infection and hospitalization from COVID. Recently, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned that unvaccinated seniors are 49 times more likely to end up in the hospital from COVID than those who have had a booster shot, and Omicron has drastically increased the hospitalization rate for children under 5, who are not yet eligible for vaccines.
Last week, Fauci said would the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would likely approve the Pfizer and BioNTech vaccine for use in children under 5 years old by the end of the first quarter. The pharmaceutical companies said that they found “no safety concerns” when testing the mRNA vaccine on children under 5.
Health authorities have already advised the rest of the U.S. population to receive a booster shot to better protect against the more virulent Omicron variant. On Sunday, Fauci left open the possibility that even more shots would be required in the future. But, Fauci said, the CDC needs to “determine clearly what the durability of protection is” from a booster shot before deciding whether mandating more will be necessary.
At-home COVID testing kits can provide rapid results, often within 30 minutes, and help catch COVID cases early. Crucially, at-home test kits can help symptomatic people confirm whether they have COVID without having to visit a testing site, where there is a higher risk of transmitting the virus.
Last week, the Biden administration announced it had bought 1 billion at-home rapid COVID tests and would make 500 million of them available to order online, providing four tests per household. The Biden administration also ordered private health insurance companies to cover the cost of eight over-the-counter at-home COVID tests available in pharmacies.
Masking has always been contentious in the U.S., and states have wavered back and forth on enforcing mask mandates. Last week, Virginia’s new governor, Glenn Youngkin, lifted a mandate on students and teachers wearing masks in school, making masking optional. But on Sunday, Fauci said that masking—along with vaccination where possible—is a key part of ensuring kids are safe in schools.
“We want to get the children back to school and the way you do that is through multiple things. You surround the children with people who are vaccinated, for the children who are eligible to be vaccinated, get them vaccinated and provide in the school, masks where you can have children protected,” Fauci said.
The CDC continues to advise people to wear masks inside public places to prevent the spread of disease and, last week, CDC chief Rochelle Walensky said the agency would update its guidance to inform citizens on the various efficacy of different masks.
Last week, President Joe Biden said the government would provide Americans with 400 million non-medical N95 masks for free, and make the masks available at community health centers and pharmacies. That would be 1.2 masks for every U.S. resident.
When Fauci says therapy, he doesn’t mean the psychological kind—although that might not be a bad idea, either. In this case, therapy means medical treatments that can prevent a COVID infection from turning serious and requiring hospitalization.
Last month, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), approved two COVID-19 antiviral pills—one from Pfizer, the other from Merck—for prescription usage. The antivirals are designed to prevent mild cases of COVID from becoming more severe.
Last Friday, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) authorized the antiviral drug Remdesivir as a treatment for non-hospitalized COVID patients. Previously, the FDA only permitted the drug’s usage for hospitalized cases.
Never miss a story: Follow your favorite topics and authors to get a personalized email with the journalism that matters most to you.