Fauci: Pulling Back on Masks, Distancing ‘Premature’ — New Coronavirus Cases Remain High

National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases head Dr. Anthony Fauci said Sunday on CBS’s “Face the Nation” that it was “premature” to pull back on the mitigation methods of wearing masks and social distancing because new coronavirus cases remain high.

Partial transcript as follows:

MARGARET BRENNAN: You have been warning all month that we are stuck. We are plateauing at a high level of infection. You just heard that Michigan, New York, New Jersey, Massachusetts, we’re seeing spikes. What’s driving these infections? Is it the new variants?

FAUCI: Well, you know, the variants are playing a part, but it is not completely the variants. What we’re likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you’ve seen. Now, several states have done that. I believe it’s premature because when I’ve said many times to you that when you’re coming down from a big peak and you reach a point and start to plateau, once you stay at that plateau, you’re really in danger of a surge coming up. And unfortunately, that’s what we’re starting to see. We got stuck at around 50,000 new cases per day, went up to 60,000 the other day. And that’s really a risk. We’ve seen that in our own country. And that’s exactly what’s happened in Europe in several of the countries in the European Union where they plateaued and then started to come back. And that’s why we say it really is almost a race between getting people vaccinated and having this peak that we may want to see. And we don’t want to see that. And again, it isn’t just the variants. Variants we take seriously and are concerned, but it is not only the variants that are doing that.

BRENNAN: The CDC director said this week it is not the time to travel. What specifically is the problem with travel?

FAUCI: Well, when you see travel and what Dr. Walensky was referring to is that whenever we see surges in travel, be that around the holidays or around certain- certain situations like we did over the Christmas and New Year’s holiday and other types of holidays, you get congregation of people. Even if on the planes people are wearing masks, when you get to the airport, the check-in lines, the food lines for restaurants, the boarding that you see, how people sometimes can be congregating together, those are the kind of things that invariably increase the risk of getting infected. That’s what she was referring to. The travel phenomenon in general does that.

BRENNAN: It’s still high risk then? So when you were last with us–

FAUCI: Yeah. It is.

BRENNAN: When you were last with us, you said that your expectation was that elementary school kids likely wouldn’t be vaccinated until the first quarter of 2022. For parents who are trying to plan their summers, what does that mean? Can they send their kids to summer camp? Can they allow them to play again on playgrounds?

FAUCI: You know, it is conceivable that that will be possible, MARGARET, because what we’re seeing is, you know, as you just mentioned on the piece, we now have three to 3.5 million vaccinations each day. If we keep up at that pace, invariably that’s going to drive the rate and the level of infections per day to a much, much lower level. If we get into the summer and you have a considerable percentage of the- of the population vaccinated and the level in the community gets below that plateau that’s worrying me and my colleagues in public health, it is conceivable that you would have a good degree of flexibility during the summer, even with the children, with things like camps. We don’t know that for sure, but I think that’s an aspirational goal that we should go for.

BRENNAN: So if parents are vaccinated, they still do need to be concerned about their unvaccinated children playing together in groups. Is that right?

FAUCI: Yeah, the children can clearly wind up getting infected. When we talk about what you can do when you’re vaccinated, you can certainly have members of a family if the adults are vaccinated and you’re in the home with your child, you don’t need to wear a mask and you can have physical contact. When the children go out into the community, you want them to continue to wear masks when they’re interacting with groups from multiple households.

Follow Pam Key on Twitter @pamkeyNEN

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