For now, the U.S. is ‘not in the pandemic phase,’ Fauci says

Though the coronavirus remains a deadly public health emergency around the globe, the United States is no longer in a pandemic phase, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden.

“We don’t have 900,000 new infections a day and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths [each day],” Fauci told the PBS NewsHour’s anchor and managing editor Judy Woodruff on Tuesday.

At the same time, “if you look at the global situation, there’s no doubt this pandemic is still ongoing,” he said.

In order to maintain low levels and keep the nation “out of the pandemic phase,” Fauci said the U.S. would have to intermittently vaccinate people at a frequency yet to be determined — possibly every year.

“We’re not going to eradicate this virus,” said Fauci, who has helped lead the national response to COVID-19 for more than two years.

In speaking with The Washington Post after this interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci expanded on his remarks, saying that the U.S. was out of the “full-blown explosive pandemic phase,” but that the virus still posed a threat.

“We’re really in a transitional phase, from a deceleration of the numbers into hopefully a more controlled phase and endemicity,” Fauci told the Post on Wednesday.

A new CDC report revealed on Tuesday that three out of four children, and nearly 60 percent of U.S. adults, have already contracted the virus. Vice President Kamala Harris announced on Twitter the same day that she had also tested positive. The official known numbers of U.S. infections and deaths from the coronavirus – expected soon to surpass 1 million – are believed to be undercounts of the real toll.

“I am virtually certain that we are undercounting the number of infections,” Fauci said, adding that he thinks the U.S. should be able to track them better. But to him, the undercount is also a sign of good news – that hospitalizations currently are not growing in proportion to new cases driven by BA.2, a more transmissible variation of omicron that is now the dominant strain.

Dr. Ashish Jha, the White House’s COVID-19 response coordinator, said at an April 26 briefing that hospitalizations are at the lowest level of the pandemic as deaths continue to fall, despite BA.2’s presence in the country.

On Tuesday, the World Health Organization announced that the global death count fell to its lowest level since March 2020, but cautioned that several countries have slowed down their testing efforts, which makes it difficult to track the virus’ impact and next steps. China and several countries in Europe have also seen recent spikes in infections.

According to the latest figures from Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 78 percent of the U.S. population has received at least one COVID vaccine dose. That figure is significantly lower — 67 percent — for the global population, according to Oxford University’s Our World in Data project. The United Nations says that disparity is far worse for low-income countries, in which just 16 percent of people overall have been vaccinated with at least one dose. For months, WHO has warned that the lack of global vaccine equity puts everyone at risk of new — and potentially worse — variants in the long term.

“This virus won’t go away just because countries stopped looking for it. It’s still spreading, it’s still changing, and it’s still killing,” said Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, WHO’s director-general. “Although deaths are declining, we still don’t understand the long-term consequences of infection in those who survive. When it comes to a deadly virus, ignorance is not bliss.”