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US no longer in ‘full-blown’ pandemic phase, Anthony Fauci says

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The virus’s ability to mutate and work around the human immune system has made experts cautious about predicting the trajectory of the pandemic.

“Not to be gloom and doom, but the central issue is that we do not know whether the virus will spawn new variants capable of eroding the protection from vaccines and therapeutics,” Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said in an email Wednesday. “Over the coming years, we will gain a better sense of that capacity.”

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Fauci’s comments on the end of the “pandemic phase” could easily be misinterpreted, said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Irvine.

“There’s still a lot of moving parts here. I don’t disagree with what Fauci said, but as soon as I heard it, I figured it would be wildly misinterpreted by your average member of the public,” Noymer said.

Fauci took pains on Wednesday to explain his thinking. The country has not reached a major milestone, he said. He was pointing out what is clear from the coronavirus trackers in recent months: The country is in a different position than it was previously. He said the United States was in the “full-blown pandemic phase” in the winter, then entered a period he refers to as the “deceleration” phase.

“There’s the full-blown pandemic dynamic, the way we were months ago, where we were having 900,000 cases a day, tens of thousands of hospitalisations, three thousand deaths a day,” he said. “The deaths went from 3000 down to 300.”

The country is transitioning, he said, to what he calls the “control” phase. That’s where he expects the health emergency to settle down, with the virus still circulating but not causing devastating new waves of hospitalisation and death. Asked if the country is in the control phase now, he said not quite yet.

In May 2021, Fauci told The Post he thought the virus could reach the “control” stage by autumn of that year. The Delta variant soon rendered that a pipe dream. Before the Delta wave had even subsided, Omicron came roaring in, sickening tens of millions as 2021 turned into 2022.

The case numbers dropped precipitously for a couple of months but have been ticking upward in recent weeks, driven by the Omicron subvariants BA.2 and BA.2.12.1.

“Right now, we’re at a low enough level that I believe that we’re transitioning into endemicity. … We’re not in the full-blown explosive pandemic phase. That does not mean that the pandemic is over,” Fauci said. “A pandemic means widespread infection throughout the world. … In our country, we’re transitioning into more of a controlled endemicity.”

Restrictions are easing as many Americans appear to be putting the pandemic behind them. Masking requirements have been lifted across most of the country, and officials stopped enforcing a federal mask mandate in transportation settings after a judge struck down the requirement.

Officials cautioned that the new CDC data on widespread infections does not ensure that individuals have infection-induced immunity against the virus. While previous infections are believed to offer some protection against serious disease for most people, health experts say the best protection against infection and serious disease or death is vaccination.

Washington Post

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