Fauci: 'We're not in the end zone yet' on Covid spread

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WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci warned state leaders against the “risky business” of eliminating public health measures, raising concerns on Sunday’s “Meet the Press” that the nation could see a new surge in cases if it lets its guard down.

About a dozen states have recently rolled back coronavirus-related restrictions including mask mandates or limits on indoor gatherings. But Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said that even as things are headed “in the right direction,” caseloads were still too high to declare “victory” by slashing restrictions.

“Even though the decline was steep, we absolutely need to avoid the urge to say; ‘Oh, everything is going great,’” he told “Meet the Press.”

“Don’t spike the ball on the five-yard line. Wait until you get into the end zone. We are not in the end zone yet.”

There have been more than 29 million coronavirus cases in America and over 535,000 deaths attributed to the virus, according to NBC News analysis. But trends have been promising. The 7-day average of daily, new cases is around 57,000, the lowest it’s been since October, and there have been more than 105 million vaccine doses administered across the country (almost 37 million people are fully vaccinated and almost 69 million people have received their first vaccine dose, according to NBC News).

States have reacted to the trends differently — governors in Iowa, Mississippi, Montana, Oklahoma and Texas scrapped their states’ mask mandates, for instance.

And some states, like Connecticut, have rolled back limits on many indoor businesses while still keeping mask mandates intact.

“When I hear pulling back completely on public health measures, saying no more masks, no nothing like that, that is risky business,” Fauci said.

While Fauci celebrated the decline in cases, he warned that a surge is still possible thanks to newer variants of the virus, which experts warn could evade vaccines or be more contagious.”

“If you look at the numbers that have gone down, they’ve gone down so nicely in a very steep decline. But in the last couple of weeks, we’ve had a plateauing of infections. And the thing that concerns me, because history proves I should be concerned, is when you get a plateau around the level of 60,000 new infections per day, there is always a risk of another surge,” he said.

He also voiced concerns about a political divide when it comes to vaccinations — a recent poll from NPR/PBS NewsHour/Marist found that almost half (47 percent) of those who supported former President Donald Trump in the 2020 election say they won’t choose to be vaccinated, compared to just 10 percent of those who backed President Joe Biden — and called on Trump to do something to address the divide.

“The numbers you gave are so disturbing, such a large proportion of a certain group of people would not want to get vaccinated because of political consideration,” Fauci said.

“We’ve got to dissociate political persuasion from common sense, no-brainer, public health things.”