Dr. Fauci Just Warned This Could Cause "An Unexpected Surge"

"We could turn around and go the opposite direction pretty quickly," he warned.

COVID cases have been seeing an encouraging decline lately. According to The New York Times, this week, the U.S. has recorded an average of 97,378 new COVID cases per day, a 38 percent drop from the average two weeks earlier. But while we should be optimistic about this downward trend, Anthony Fauci, MD, said that things could change rather quickly and we could be in another COVID surge if we're not careful. According to the White House chief medical adviser, that's all because of one major unknown: the new variants that are starting to spread across the country.

"If you look at the plotting of the cases, they have peaked, they're turning around and are starting to come down," Fauci told The New York Times in a Feb. 13 interview. "Likely, the more time that goes by, the less and less cases we'll see. Unless—and this is a possibility—we have an unexpected surge related to some of the variants." Read on to find out which variant in particular he sees as a "big wild card," and for another jarring warning about the state of things, check out The U.K.'s Top Scientist Has a Chilling COVID Warning for Americans.

Right now, Fauci says, we're heading in the right direction.

Young woman using smartphone while wearing a mask in time of the COVID pandemic
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In a new interview with The Times about the future of professional baseball, Fauci noted we're seeing "remarkably diminished" new COVID case numbers. "If you look at a month or so ago, we were having 300,000 to 400,000 cases a day," he said. "Now for the last few days in a row, we've had less than 100,000 cases. So as the slopes keep going down, we're going in the right direction." And to see how numbers look where you live, check out How Bad the COVID Outbreak Is in Your State.

He believes the vaccine will help further bring numbers down.

Young guy in medical face mask getting COVID-19 vaccine shot at the hospital.
Studio Romantic / Shutterstock

While we're not quite seeing the positive effects of the vaccine on overall COVID numbers just yet, Fauci expects that to kick in soon as more and more people get vaccinated. At the moment, more than 50 million vaccines have been administered, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). But with 330 million Americans in total needing 660 million shots, we still have a long road ahead.

"We now have highly efficacious vaccines that are being rolled out," Fauci told The Times. "We are vaccinating more and more people each day. And we will have more and more vaccines available as the weeks and the months go by. So it looks like we're heading in the right direction." And for Fauci's prediction on when you'll be able to get vaccinated, check out Dr. Fauci Says You'll Easily Get a Vaccine Appointment After This Date.

One factor that could impede on our progress is something we can control.

Woman with protective mask spraying disinfectant alcohol on her palms and her hands to prevent coronavirus in a car
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"Whether or not it stays in that direction is going to depend on a bunch of things," Fauci said, the first of which is: "Are people going to continue to be careful … to implement public health measures?"

Since the spring of last year, Fauci has been pushing Americans to follow the basic health guidelines of washing our hands, maintaining social distance, and wearing a mask. But there's some fear that people will ease up on these measures once they're vaccinated. "We don't want people to think that because they got vaccinated that other public health recommendations just don't apply," Fauci said during a January CNN virtual town hall. "One of the biggest things that are not well understood is: 'Why should I even have to wear a mask [after getting vaccinated]?'"

He went on to explain that while the COVID vaccines do protect against severe illness, "you could conceivably get infected, get no symptoms, and still have virus in your nasal pharynx." That means, according to Fauci, "you would have to wear a mask to prevent you from infecting someone else, as well as the other side of the coin, where you might not be totally protected yourself." And for more COVID news sent right to your inbox, sign up for our daily newsletter.

But the new variants, and one in particular, pose the biggest threat.

Scientist in lab wearing safety gear
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The other concern Fauci has is: "What is going to happen with the variants? Are they going to make things more difficult by having an additional spike in infections? I don't know," he admitted. "The big wild card in this is really the variants."

Right now, there are nearly 1,000 cases of new variants in the U.S. and while there are a few cases of the South African and Brazilian strains, 981 of those are the U.K. variant, which has been found in 34 states, the CDC reports.

In his New York Times interview, Fauci specifically called out the U.K. variant, which is expected to take over in the U.S. next month. "The variant that is in the U.K. that is likely going to become more dominant in the U.S., the models tell us that will happen probably by the end of March," he said. "If we don't adhere to public health measures the way we should, that could take off on us. That's the reason why I say I'm cautiously optimistic because we could turn around and go the opposite direction pretty quickly." And for another bleak prediction, check out This Is Exactly When We'll See the Next COVID Surge, Experts Warn.

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