Dr. Fauci Says This Is Exactly When We Can Get Rid of COVID Restrictions

He set out the number of daily new COVID cases that we need to get below.

With more people being vaccinated against COVID-19 every day, talk has turned to when the restrictions we've been adhering to for a year can be removed, so we can get a taste for normal life again. While numerous states across the U.S. have begun to dial back mask mandates and increase capacity requirements, experts like CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, MD, and White House COVID adviser Anthony Fauci, MD, have been warning that it's too soon to make these moves. But that begs the question: When will it be safe to get back to some semblance of normalcy? In a Mar. 4 interview on CNN's The Lead with Jake Tapper, Fauci gave a clear timeline as to exactly when it will be safe for COVID restrictions to be removed. And in order for us to get there, we have to get COVID cases down to a specific number. Read on to find out what that is, and for more vaccine news, check out The CDC Just Warned of 3 New Vaccine Side Effects.

Fauci said we can loosen restrictions at about 10,000 new COVID cases per day.

Masks Required Sign

Fauci wants to assure the American public that this won't be forever. "We will be pulling back," he said on the subject of easing restrictions. "We're now up to about 2 million vaccinations per day. That means every day that goes by, every week that goes by, you have more and more people protected."

Right now, it's the plateau of new case numbers that has Fauci concerned: The seven-day average for new daily cases of COVID-19 as of Mar. 5 was about than 61,169.

Tapper asked Fauci, "When would be the right time to reopen businesses at full capacity? When would be the right time to remove masks?" The doctor's answer suggested that we need to stay vigilant for a while yet. "Well, I wouldn't want to see a light switch go on and off with regard to restrictions, Jake. I would like to see, as we get the level of virus in the community to a very low level, well, well below the 60,000 to 70,000 new infections, somewhere—I will just pick a number, even though there's not a good model there yet—but I would say less than 10,000, and maybe even considerably less than that."

The number hasn't dropped below 50,000 daily cases since the middle of Oct. 2020, and has been higher than 10,000 new cases per day since mid-March 2020. And for more on where numbers are rising at the moment, check out COVID Numbers Are Now Spiking Again in These 10 States.

New variants have Fauci concerned.

woman coughing into her elbow outside while holding coffee

New variants of the virus are in circulation, including the B.1.1.7 variant from the United Kingdom, which now accounts for 2,672 cases across the U.S. and has been found in 46 states, plus Washington, D.C. and Puerto Rico, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). And Fauci said that variant, and the South African variant and Brazilian variant, are one of the reasons he's worried about our current trajectory.

"The other thing that bothers me and worries me somewhat, Jake, is that we have circulating variants in the community. … Some of them have increased capacity to transmit, and some are less protected by the vaccines, which means you want a person to get vaccinated to get that level of antibody high enough, so that you can have a cushion against the variant, if you happen to get infected with the variant," he told Tapper. "So, there are so many reasons why you don't want to pull back just now. You want a plan that you will be able within a reasonable time to pull back, but not at a time when we have circulating variants and when you have what looks like a plateauing of the decline in the cases on a daily basis." And for more on where the variants are spreading fastest, check out These 2 States Are the Biggest Hotspots for the New COVID Strain.

Fauci is specifically worried that we could see another spike due to the U.K. variant.

Medical staff work in the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) for COVID-19 multiple patients inside a special hospital in Bergamo, on November 11, 2020.
faboi / Shutterstock

The latest evidence indicates the B.1.1.7 variant is between 43 percent and 90 percent more infectious than previous strains of the virus, CNN reports. During the interview, Tapper pointed out those estimates about the U.K. variant's transmissibility rate and asked, "What might this mean in the U.S.? Are we going to enter a period now where more people are getting infected because of the U.K. variant?"

In response, Fauci said, "I believe, if you pull back on public health measures, that possible might become likely. And that's one of the reasons why I keep saying now is not the time to pull back. Some of the encouraging news, that it looks like the vaccines that are being currently distributed now, the two million or so per day, work really quite well against the 1.1.7. U.K. isolate, as we call it, which means further incentive for people, when their turn comes up, to please get vaccinated."

Fauci reiterated that there are two things Americans can do to "continue a downward trend" in COVID cases: "one, abide by public health measures that I have been talking about and others have, and, two, get vaccinated when your time comes up."

He assured Americans that "we will be able to open up the country, open up the economy. But right now, we want to get that level of virus much, much lower than it currently is." And for more COVID news sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

And he said even in states where mask mandates are ending, people should still be cautious.

group of college friends communicating while wearing protective face masks while standing against the wall in a lobby.

Texas and Mississippi announced recently that they were removing mask mandates and loosening capacity limits for businesses. In reponse, Fauci issued a warning to those states during a Mar. 4 appearance on MSNBC's Morning Joe. "I would advise the people of Texas and Mississippi to just abide by the public health measures that we talk about all the time: Uniform wearing of masks, physical distancing, avoiding congregate settings, particularly indoors, washing your hands frequently," he said. "We just have to keep doing that because we know it works."

The chief White House medical adviser also warned that we've already seen the disastrous effects that loosening public health restrictions at the wrong time can have. "That's a bad sign, we've seen that before," Fauci said referencing the current plateau in new cases nationwide. "We've seen that last summer when we were trying to so-called 'open up the economy and open up the country,' and then we had that really big surge that we don't want to repeat now. We were going in the right direction. Now's the time to keep the foot on the accelerator and not pull off because the thing that we don't want is yet again another surge." And if you're gearing up to get vaccinated against the virus, know that The CDC Says Don't Take This After Your Vaccine Without a Doctor's OK.

John Quinn
John Quinn is a London-based writer and editor who specializes in lifestyle topics. Read more