Dr. Fauci Just Said He Doesn't Have the "Right Answer" to This COVID Problem
Finding our way out of the pandemic might not be as clear cut as it seems.
In the first month of 2022, the Omicron variant was spreading so rapidly in the U.S. that COVID cases and hospitalizations in the country were the highest they had been since the start of the pandemic. Just a month later, the situation looks radically different. Daily infections have fallen 42 percent over the last week and new hospital admissions are down by 25 percent, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But as we try to navigate returning to normal while staving off the threat of new variants, even some of the country's most notable virus experts aren't quite sure what the best course of action is. In a new interview, top White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, just revealed that he does not have the "right answer" to one of the country's biggest COVID problems. Read on to find out the latest from the infectious disease expert.
Dr. Fauci said he doesn't have the right answer on what to do about COVID restrictions.
As more and more states have begun getting rid of some of their COVID restrictions, there's a fair amount of uncertainty. During a Feb. 16 interview with Reuters, Fauci acknowledged that these lifted policies could have repercussions and cause unnecessary infections, but at the same time, he said that focusing too heavily on continuing strict restrictions could be harmful as well.
"Is the impact on mental health, is the impact on development of kids, is the impact on schools—is that balanced against trying to be totally pristine and protecting against infection? I don't have the right answer to that," Fauci told the news outlet.
But he said the country should be heading toward normality.
Fauci said that the effort to balance protection and the growing pandemic fatigue means that many states are facing tough choices right now, noting that "there is no perfect solution to this." But the infectious disease expert also said it's understandable that officials have started pulling back some precautions. And according to Fauci, it's likely time for the U.S. to do so as a whole.
"The fact that the world and the United States and particularly certain parts of the United States are just up to here with COVID—they just really need to somehow get their life back," he said. "You don't want to be reckless and throw everything aside, but you've got to start inching towards that."
Many officials have already planned to lift mask restrictions or are considering it.
The tide has turned on COVID restrictions. More than 10 states have announced an end to statewide masking policies in just the last week, The New York Times reported. This includes California, whose indoor-mask mandate expired on Feb. 15, and Illinois, whose statewide indoor-mask requirement will be lifted on Feb. 28.
Even CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, recently said that the agency could "soon" deliver updated mitigation guidance, particularly when it comes to masking. On Feb. 15, NBC News reported that the CDC was considering potentially loosening its mask guidelines based on new benchmarks around the rate of severe disease and hospitalizations in a given community.
"We want to give people a break from things like mask-wearing, when these metrics are better, and then have the ability to reach for them again should things worsen," Walensky explained during a Feb. 16 White House press briefing. "We are assessing the most important factors based on where we are in the pandemic, and we'll soon put guidance in place that is relevant and encourages prevention measures when they are most needed to protect public health and our hospitals."
But experts are also cautioning against getting rid of all precautions.
Many virus experts, including Fauci, have recently advised against throwing all caution to the wind. During a Feb. 15 interview on MSNBC's All In With Chris Hayes, Fauci warned that we are not "out of the woods" with COVID and that all precautions can't be lifted yet. "We've got to be careful," he said. "You don't want to be declaring victory prematurely."
Other experts warn that we could put ourselves in another Omicron situation if we lift too many restrictions at once. "Opening too quickly can lead to unnecessary increases in transmission that will only prolong the current surge and potentially accelerate the pace of a new variant," John Brownstein, PhD, an epidemiologist at Boston Children's Hospital, told ABC News.
Brownstein added, "This is not the time to let our guard down. Pulling back on restrictions has to be incredibly nuanced and based on robust data produced at the local level."