As the number of coronavirus infections continues to rise among unvaccinated Americans, Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious-disease expert, said Sunday that the United States is in an “unnecessary predicament” at this point in the pandemic.
The latest surge in infections is driven by the highly virulent delta variant, which continues to spread rapidly around the country. Although official guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has not changed, Fauci hinted that a return to indoor mask mandates for vaccinated people and booster shots may be necessary to once again curb the spread of the virus.
Fauci echoed CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, who emphasized that most infections have occurred in the country’s unvaccinated population.
“It is really a pandemic among the unvaccinated, so this is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we’re out there, practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out and get vaccinated,” said Fauci, describing the disease as still “in retreat” among vaccinated people.
More than 163 million people have been fully vaccinated, according to data compiled by The Washington Post — less than 50 percent of the eligible population. Vaccination rates from state to state have varied greatly, with 30 states having vaccinated less than half of their eligible populations.
Fauci discussed the possibility of booster shots, as government officials continue to review data on vaccine efficacy, saying there is “likely” to be a recommendation to do so for certain vulnerable populations, such as organ-transplant and cancer patients. The CDC is exploring options to distribute additional doses to these populations, amid growing concerns about waning immunity against the virus.
With the resurgence of infections, many local jurisdictions have begun reinstating more stringent coronavirus restrictions. Both St. Louis and Los Angeles County have implemented mask mandates requiring everyone, even vaccinated people, to use face coverings indoors and while using public transportation. Many health officials have also said mask mandates may be required to curb what has been called a “pandemic of the unvaccinated.” Fauci acknowledged that federal officials are in “active consideration” about whether to issue updated guidance, publicly confirming a Washington Post report.
“If you look at what’s going on locally, in the trenches, in places like L.A. County, the local officials have the discretion, and the CDC agrees with that ability and discretion,” Fauci said.
New projections released by the Covid-19 Scenario Modeling Hub showed infections continuing to rise throughout the summer and fall. In the model’s most likely scenario, the latest wave of infections would peak in mid-October, with about 60,000 new daily cases and 850 deaths per day.
“If you look historically at the modeling that has been done over the past 18 months, for the most part it’s been pretty accurate,” Fauci said.
The chief medical adviser to President Biden later added, “We have the tools to blunt that and make that model wrong, but if we don’t vaccinate people, the model is going to predict that we’re going to be in trouble as we continue to get more and more cases.”
With hesitancy and outright resistance to vaccines holding firm in many communities, Fauci stressed the importance of other officials continuing to encourage vaccinations.
He also offered praise for Republican officials, including Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis and Rep. Steve Scalise (La.), for their recent comments encouraging people to get vaccinated, which come after months of resistance from many in the GOP. Arkansas, Florida and Louisiana have some of the lowest vaccination rates in the country.
“We’ve got to get more people who relate well to the individuals who aren’t getting vaccinated to get out there and encourage them to get vaccinated,” Fauci said.
Dan Diamond contributed to this report.