Dr. Fauci talks timeline for removing mask mandate, cautions against declaring premature COVID victory

"Hang in there a bit longer, we’re going to get through this, and this is going to end, but don’t declare victory prematurely."

Thursday, with more than 150 million vaccine doses administered across the US, Dr. Anthony Fauci, Chief Medical Advisor to President Joe Biden, spoke with FOX 11’s Elex Michaelson about his hope for a return to post-pandemic normalcy, while emphasizing the need for continued public health measures at state level until then.

Average cases are down precipitously from their peak in January, when roughly 250,000 infections were being reported daily, but Fauci expressed concern over the rising and plateauing of recent trend lines, noting that infections have gone "from 30, to 40, to 50, and now, most recently, over 60,000 a day."

"That is usually a forerunner of another surge," he warned. "We’re in such a good position with the vaccines rolling out in a really good fashion, where we’re vaccinating, you know, maybe three million people per day, and everyday that goes by we get closer and closer to better control, so we get concerned, when, understandably, states want to cut loose, they want to get back to normal, and they pull back a lot on the restrictions, and that just leads to this danger of rebounding."

Fauci’s warning comes as California, which was the first state to lockdown at the start of the pandemic, and still has a mask mandate in place, begins to open up in a much more significant way.

This week, Los Angeles and Orange counties were cleared to move to the less restrictive orange tier, in which retail stores will have no capacity limits, restaurants can increase indoor dining to 50% capacity, and even offices in nonessential industries can reopen.

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As some 30 states see case surges, and as more coronavirus variants are discovered in California, Michaelson asked Dr. Fauci if he believes California should slow down, or even pause their ongoing reopening effortS.

"I think they need to be flexible, and determine, if you start to see a tick up, to just pull back a bit," the doctor said. "The issue of restaurants and bars and things, that can be problematic. If people start congregating indoors a bit too much, then you can get the concern that I’m talking about."

To hamper those concerns, the NIAID Director stressed the continued importance of mask-wearing.

Fauci’s continued push for masking follows remarks this week by CDC Director Rochelle Walensky that CDC preliminary data suggests "vaccinated people don’t carry the virus, don’t get sick."

Could Walensky’s claim mean that vaccinated individuals might no longer need to wear masks?

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According to Dr. Fauci, a definitive answer is not yet available.

"What you’re likely going to see, as more data accumulate, is a recommendation, or a statement, that, in fact, if you are vaccinated, you don’t have to wear a mask," Fauci responded. "But we’re not there yet. We are getting there quickly, and there are a number of studies going on right now that are going to nail that down."

Fauci said he could not provide a strict timeline on when that data might be available, but noted that a recently launched NIAID-funded study taking place on college campuses could yield results within a few months, while other studies could back-up Walensky’s claim before then.

If those studies do support Walensky’s claim that vaccinated individuals cannot carry the virus, Michaelson asked if that could imply the possibility of a full reopening.

"That’s going to really depend," Fauci said. "If you get the overwhelming proportion of the population vaccinated, that almost certainly will be associated with the marked diminution in the level of infection in the community, namely the number of new infections per day. I think that you’re going to see both of those things happening simultaneously, people being vaccinated, and the level going down to a very, very low level. 60,000 new cases per day is not a low level, we’ve got to get way down, and when we do Elex, then you’re going to start seeing a pretty rapid progression towards what you and I would consider is close to normal."

In a wide-ranging interview on The Issue Is, Dr. Fauci also commented on the human error that led to the loss of some 15 million doses of the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the efficacy of vaccine passports, and why he believes the Los Angeles Lakers will repeat as NBA champions.

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