Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker said he hopes Dr. Anthony Fauci is right when he says the worst of the pandemic may be behind the U.S., but whether or not current levels can be maintained remains to be seen.
Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert, said Wednesday the coronavirus is under better control in the United States, but the pandemic isn't over.
“We are in a different moment of the pandemic,” Fauci said in an interview with The Associated Press.
After a brutal winter surge, “we've now decelerated and transitioned into more of a controlled phase,” he said. “By no means does that mean the pandemic is over.”
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His comments came a day after he said on the PBS “NewsHour” that the U.S. was “out of the pandemic phase” and also told The Washington Post that the country was finally "out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase.”
Fauci's remarks reflect how health authorities are wrestling with the next stage of the pandemic — how to keep COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations manageable and learn to live with what's still a mutating and unpredictable virus.
Fauci said the U.S. appears to be out of what he called the “fulminant phase” of the pandemic, huge variant surges that at their worst sparked hundreds of thousands of infections daily, along with tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths.
"I would trust his opinion," Pritzker said. "I hope and pray that he's accurate in that statement."
COVID-19 cases are at a lower point than they’ve been in months and two-thirds of the U.S. population is vaccinated. Nearly half of those who need a booster dose have gotten the extra shot, and effective treatments are available.
“We are much, much better off than we were a year ago,” Fauci said.
Still, there have been lulls before, and while cases are low, they are increasing in many parts of the country. Vaccination rates worldwide are far lower, especially in developing countries.
"My view is that we're being vigilant," Pritzker said. "As you've seen, we no longer have mask requirements across the state, we've lifted many of the executive orders that have had any restrictions associated with them - we're moving toward it. I'm hopeful that we will be able to remove all of them eventually, and the disaster declaration. We're listening to the CDC about that and the White House and also keeping our own counsel about the cases and hospitalizations so that we're tracking it so that we can notify all of you about the care that you can take for yourselves for your own health."
To keep improving, Fauci ticked off a to-do list: Get more people fully vaccinated; develop even better vaccines; figure out the best booster strategy to counter variants; and make sure people can access treatment as soon as they need it.
“We can't take our foot off the pedal,” Fauci said. “There's a lot of viral dynamics throughout the world and we still may get another variant which could lead to another potential surge.”