The U.S. is now in the midst of another COVID-19 surge driven by the delta coronavirus variant. And Anthony Fauci, M.D., says that the situation will get worse before it gets better—but he doesn’t expect to see new lockdowns.
“I don’t think we’re going to see lockdowns. I think we have enough of the percentage of people in the country, not enough to crush the outbreak, but I believe enough to not allow us to get into the situation we were in last winter,” Dr. Fauci said on a new episode of ABC’s This Week, referring to the massive post-holiday surge. “But things are going to get worse. If you look at the acceleration of the number of cases, the seven-day average has gone up substantially.”
Indeed, as the highly transmissible delta variant spreads across the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) seven-day average for new COVID-19 cases in a day increased by 64% since last week (from an average of 40,597 cases in a day to 66,606). And while just over 60% of adults are fully vaccinated so far, that leaves many people—including children under the age of 12—who aren’t yet vaccinated.
The most vulnerable are those who are still unvaccinated, said Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and President Biden’s chief medical advisor on COVID-19. And the fact that there are so many people in the country who aren’t vaccinated is prolonging the pandemic.
“From the standpoint of illness, hospitalization, suffering, and death, the unvaccinated are the much more vulnerable because the vaccinated are protected from severe illness for the most part,” he explained. “But when you look at the country as a whole in getting us back to normal, the unvaccinated by not being vaccinated are allowing the propagation and the spread of the outbreak, which ultimately impacts everyone.”
With so many unvaccinated people getting infected, the virus is allowed to continue to spread. That impacts other people “from the standpoint of having to wear masks, from the standpoint of the safety of the kids in school, from the standpoint of being able to open up everything the way we were when we were normal,” Dr. Fauci said.
Just last week the CDC adjusted its guidelines to recommend that vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas of the country with a substantial or high amount of coronavirus transmission. (You can see the level of spread in your area with the CDC’s tool here.)
That’s due in large part to new research suggesting that fully vaccinated people who develop a rare breakthrough infection can spread the virus and, therefore, should wear a mask to prevent that from happening. Although the decision to get vaccinated may seem like something that only impacts you, “the fact is if you get infected, even if you are without symptoms, you very well may infect another person who may be vulnerable, who may get seriously ill,” Dr. Fauci said. “So in essence, you are encroaching on their individual rights because you’re making them vulnerable.”
The way out of this surge, ultimately, is to continue using the public health tools we are very familiar with now—starting with getting vaccinated. Wearing a mask (particularly indoors in areas of the country with a lot of COVID-19 spread) as well as avoiding crowds and washing your hands frequently can all help reduce the chances that you’ll be infected with the virus and that you’ll pass it on to other people. Taking these measures now will help us get through the current delta surge and make it less likely that another concerning variant will pop up in the future.