As States Lift COVID Restrictions, Dr. Anthony Fauci Says It’s ‘Risky’: ‘I Don’t Agree with It’
When Texas and Mississippi announced at the beginning of March that they would drop their mask mandates and lift COVID-19 restrictions, the decision was heavily criticized by health experts who said that it could lead to a rise in infections. But in the weeks since, nearly every U.S. state has followed suit, announcing that they, too, would roll back restrictions and allow businesses to fully reopen.
As that happens, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, is warning that it could lead to another rise in cases at a time when the U.S. is still seeing around 55,000 new infections a day.
"I understand the urge to get back to normal as soon as possible, but I don't agree with it," he tells PEOPLE in this week's issue. "It's risky and could set us back to a place that's even worse than where we are now … and lead to additional surges."
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Fauci is imploring Americans to keep up COVID-19 precautions like wearing their masks and avoiding socializing with people outside their household — which is still advised by the Centers for Disease Control — regardless of their state's rules.
"Even when the authorities pull back on [preventative] recommendations, I would urge people to follow the recommendations from the CDC," he says.
Maintaining those standards will help the U.S. get to the end of the pandemic, which is finally in sight. But right now, the country is at "a very interesting transition period."
"We've been through one of the worst surges over this past winter. But the numbers have come down precipitously over the past several weeks, as more than 2 million people a day are getting vaccinated," Fauci says. "It's too early to declare victory, but as we increase the number of vaccinations and don't precipitously pull back on public health measures, we could be headed on a steady pathway toward things getting progressively back to normal."
The top health advisor to President Joe Biden says that he can't predict when the U.S. will reach herd immunity and achieve that "normal," but he emphasized that people need to get vaccinated for that to happen.
"We estimate that the level [of people immune to COVID-19] needs to be around 70 to 85%. But we can get a lot of good protection and significant control of the virus before reaching that magic arena of herd immunity" Fauci says. "So instead of focusing on that, let's keep getting more people vaccinated to the point where the level of infection is so low that it no longer poses a threat."
While all three approved vaccines — from Pfizer, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson — are entirely safe and highly effective against COVID-19, Fauci is aware that there is still some vaccine hesitancy, particularly among republican men, according to recent polling. For those who are still reluctant, he suggests trying to strike up a conversation.
"You don't want to confront them in a negative way," he says. "Instead, try and understand what their concerns are while explaining to them in a rational way what the facts are behind the vaccine."
And they should consider the benefits of being vaccinated, which Fauci and his wife, Christine Grady are already enjoying.
"[My wife and I] have some very close friends who are our next-door neighbors. Prior to getting vaccinated, we'd all go outside wearing masks with heaters on and chat with each other," he says. "Now we feel very comfortable being inside, having dinner with no masks on, since all of us are protected."
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