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WASHINGTON — The holiday season is approaching and, with it, a fresh round of pandemic-related anxiety. After two years of living cautiously, many Americans are ready to live normally again, which in the coming weeks might mean watching Thanksgiving Day football on the couch with distant cousins or attending an office Christmas party — and this time, not on Zoom.
But with the coronavirus continuing to infect more than 70,000 people per day, and with more than 1,000 daily COVID-19 fatalities, the pandemic will be the uninvited guest looming over celebrations.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, President Biden’s top medical adviser, addressed this tension in virtual remarks at the Bipartisan Policy Center on Monday morning.
“If you get vaccinated, and your family is vaccinated, you can feel good about enjoying a typical Thanksgiving, Christmas, with your family and close friends,” he said.
Fauci qualified that guidance by adding that people in “congregate settings” — sports arenas, for example, or music venues — should “go the extra mile” and wear a mask, even if they are vaccinated.
“But when you’re with your family at home, goodness, enjoy it with your parents, your children, your grandparents,” he went on to say. “There’s no reason not to do that.”
Every holiday calling for a large-scale celebration has occasioned deliberation about what is and is not safe to do, with Fauci’s assessments tending to attract a great deal of attention, given his cultural prominence and the high degree of trust he has enjoyed.
Conservatives, though, have tried to portray him as overly cautious and dishonest, most recently because he said in early October that it was then “too soon to tell” whether Christmas gatherings would be a good idea.
His remarks on Monday appeared to be more optimistic. Young children are now being vaccinated, while new coronavirus treatments are remarkably effective at preventing death. Meanwhile, the availability of at-home rapid tests means that guests at a gathering can quickly be screened, thus adding another layer of protection.
More difficult to quantify is a broader social impatience and a desire to move beyond the pandemic, even if it means living with the coronavirus to some degree. Fauci, who came of age as an immunologist working for the federal government during the fight against HIV/AIDS in the early 1980s, knows that people need more than just science to guide them.
“This will end,” he vowed on Monday. He just doesn’t know exactly when.