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Dr. Anthony Fauci on Sunday warned Americans that while he doesn’t expect the United States to return to the lockdowns or stay-at-home restrictions that defined the first year of the coronavirus pandemic, he believes “things are going to get worse” for the unvaccinated.
“We’re looking not, I believe, to lockdowns, but we’re looking to some pain and suffering in the future because we’re seeing the cases go up,” Fauci, the chief medical advisor to President Joe Biden, said in an interview on ABC’s This Week.
Fauci’s comments come after tweaked guidance from the Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) now recommends that even vaccinated people wear masks indoors in areas with high rates of coronavirus transmission. Such hot spots represent increasingly large swaths of the country, thanks in part to middling vaccination rates in southern states like Arkansas and Florida, but also to a national scourge of vaccine hesitancy.
While Florida set a new record of over 21,000 new cases in one day this past week, reclaiming its dubious distinction of pandemic precarity, cases are up across the country. Hospitalizations and deaths are lower than past heights, and vaccinated people remain overwhelmingly safe even from the Delta variant, but Fauci was speaking at a time when many Americans were fearful the new normal was already being yanked away from them.
Not surprisingly, in the interview with John Dickerson, he highlighted that the solution to the virus’ resurgence continues to be encouraging holdout Americans to get shots.
“We have 100 million people in this country, John, who are eligible to be vaccinated, who are not vaccinated,” Fauci said. “We’ve really got to get those people to change their minds, make it easy for them, convince them, do something to get them to be vaccinated, because they are the ones that are propagating this outbreak.”
The rise in cases nationwide as a result of the spread of the Delta variant has, encouragingly, appeared to prompt at least a modest spike in vaccinations in some of the states that face the biggest outbreaks. Nearly 70 percent of eligible Americans have now received one dose of the vaccine and the nation is now administering around 650,000 doses per day, according to Bloomberg’s COVID-19 Tracker.
Nationwide concern about the Delta variant took a more urgent tone this week after internal CDC documents revealed the dominant strain spreads as easily as chickenpox, and that officials believed “the war has changed,” as the Washington Post reported. CDC data has since shown just how dangerous the variant can be, with vaccinated people appearing to have similar viral loads as the unvaccinated, and possibly spreading it as easily as those who had not taken shots.
The difference, of course, is that the vaccinated continue to be broadly protected against severe illness and death from all forms of COVID-19. Despite ongoing hype about so-called breakthrough cases among the inoculated, unvaccinated people still account for the overwhelming majority of cases in the United States.
For his part, Fauci believes the new mask guidance is crucial in the event the vaccinated are in fact spreading the disease to the unvaccinated. He touted the efficacy of the shots, which experts broadly agree remain the best way to end this pandemic nightmare.
“So the vaccine is doing what you want it to do,” Fauci said. “It’s protecting people from getting sick.”
Fauci added that he was encouraged more Republican leaders seemed, if belatedly, to be taking part in the vaccination push given efforts on the far-right—sometimes by the same politicians—to undermine pandemic safety over the last 15 months.
“But I’m also gratified by seeing that even people who in the beginning were reluctant to promote vaccination are now doing it,” Fauci said. “I mean, people like Republicans like—like [Rep. Steve] Scalise or even Governor [Ron] DeSantis [of Florida] is talking about getting people vaccinated.”
As The Daily Beast reported, even as he touted the vaccine, DeSantis recently met with a notorious Los Angeles-based vaccine skeptic as part of a secret anti-mask gathering. Still, with the numbers trending the way they are—and red-state governors having so much potential power to move the needle among the MAGA crowd—Fauci was apparently determined to stay positive.