Dr. Anthony Fauci predicts that COVID-19 will become “more of an endemic situation” in the U.S. by December, meaning the coronavirus can be treated more like the flu than a health emergency.
COVID is “not going to be eradicated, and it’s not going to be eliminated,” Fauci said Tuesday in an interview with National Public Radio. Instead, the White House’s chief medical adviser said, COVID will become “something we can live with and doesn’t disrupt us.”
Fauci said that COVID’s eventual transition to endemicity shaped his decision to retire at the end of the year, well in advance of the end of President Joe Biden’s first term. After two years of being a near-constant presence in national media and COVID briefings, Fauci announced on Monday that he would step down from his position as head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, a job he has held for 38 years, in December.
In May, Fauci said the U.S. was “out of the pandemic phase,” a statement some health experts deemed premature. Fauci quickly walked back his comments, saying the U.S. was still in “a transitional phase” when it came to COVID.
The U.S. has already scaled back most of its COVID rules and recommendations. Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention stopped recommending that Americans isolate if they were in close contact with a positive case, instead suggesting daily testing and mask wearing.
In December, the CDC controversially changed its advice on how long Americans with COVID should isolate. The agency said positive cases could stop isolating after just five days, even if they were still showing symptoms, so long as they were not running a fever. (Biden exceeded these guidelines when he caught COVID earlier this summer, choosing to isolate for as long as he tested positive.)
Other governments are already preparing to treat COVID more like other endemic diseases. The European Union declared an end to the coronavirus emergency in late April. Thailand will downgrade COVID from a “dangerous” disease to one that merely “needs monitoring” in October, placing it on the same level as influenza and dengue fever.
But Fauci told NPR that there is still work to be done to get COVID to a manageable level, especially when it comes to vaccinations. If vaccination and boosting rates improve, “the virus will be at a low enough level as to not be a great perturbing of our social order” by the end of the year, said Fauci. According to the CDC, only 67.4% of the U.S. population has received two doses of the vaccine, and only 32.6% have been boosted.
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