Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said Sunday the country could “start being more liberal” with mask mandates as COVID-19 vaccination rates continue to climb.
Fauci was asked about comments from other public health officials, particularly Dr. Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the Food and Drug Administration, who said mask requirements should be relaxed as the risk of COVID-19 falls. ABC’s George Stephanopoulos asked if Fauci agreed, to which the doctor said: “I think so.”
“I think you’re going to probably be seeing that as we go along and as more people get vaccinated. The CDC will be, you know, almost in real-time, George, updating their recommendations and their guidelines,” Fauci said on ABC’s “This Week.” “But, yes, we do need to start being more liberal as we get more people vaccinated. As you get more people vaccinated, the number of cases per day will absolutely go down.”
Fauci added that case rates were still too high, saying: “We’re averaging about 43,000 a day.”
“We’ve got to get it much, much lower than that,” he continued. “When that gets lower, the risk of any infection indoor or outdoor diminishes dramatically.”
Fauci’s comments come just days after the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention acknowledged that the coronavirus is spread primarily through airborne transmission, rather than its previous guidance that the virus was largely acquired through “close contact,” and not respiratory droplets.
The CDC has relaxed some mask guidance in recent weeks, saying fully vaccinated people can go without masks outside in small groups, although the agency still says even vaccinated Americans should still wear them indoors and in public spaces.
In a separate interview with NBC’s “Meet the Press,” Fauci said it was also possible Americans would choose to wear masks off and on for the foreseeable future as other respiratory illnesses, like the flu, spread through the community.
“I think people have gotten used to the fact that wearing masks clearly … diminishes respiratory diseases. We’ve had practically a nonexistent flu season this year merely because people were doing the kind of public health things that were directed predominantly against COVID-19,” Fauci said. “It is conceivable that as we go on a year or two or more from now that during certain seasonal periods … people might actually elect to wear masks to diminish the likelihood that you’ll spread these diseases.”
Fauci on Sunday also said there was “no doubt” the number of Americans killed by the COVID-19 pandemic was much higher than official tallies showing that more than 577,000 people have died from the coronavirus. A recent study from the University of Washington estimated the figure may be closer to 905,000 deaths, which Fauci said was “a bit more” than he would expect.
“I think there’s no doubt … that we are and have been undercounting,” Fauci said on “Meet the Press.” “What that tells us is something that we’ve known. You know, we’re living through a historic pandemic, the likes of which we haven’t seen in over 100 years.”
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