April 28, 2022 – Turns out it was just a phase.
As the nation's top infectious disease expert, what Anthony Fauci, MD, says carries considerable weight, and his statement that the U.S. was “out of the pandemic phase” Tuesday made national headlines.
Many of us have longed to hear an official call on the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. But on Wednesday, Fauci clarified his comments – telling The Washington Post that the country is not out of the pandemic, but "out of the full-blown explosive pandemic phase."
He had said on PBS NewsHour on Tuesday that, "We don't have 900,000 new infections a day, and tens and tens and tens of thousands of hospitalizations and thousands of deaths.
"We are at a low level right now. So if you're [asking] are we out of the pandemic phase in this country? We are," said Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Other infectious disease experts agreed that his first announcement could have been worded better.
"I do agree but would choose to use slightly different language," says Glen Mays, PhD. "I certainly agree that the U.S. is enjoying relatively low rates of virus transmission and limited rates of hospitalization and death currently."
One benefit is that medical and public health systems are no longer stretched beyond normal capacity as they were earlier in the pandemic, says Mays, a professor at the Colorado School of Public Health in Aurora.
"While infections rage in many other countries, I find it hard to say that the U.S. is entirely out of the pandemic," agrees Stephanie Rosales, MD, of Lenox Hill Hospital in New York City.
Pandemics tend to play out in phases. "Some countries are still in the aggressive phase of the pandemic," Rosales says. "The U.S. appears to be in the latter stages: deceleration and maybe even in a preparation phase for future pandemic waves."
Referring to Fauci's comments, she says, "I think this is what he is suggesting. Maybe it’s just semantics."
Europe is likely to make a similar announcement soon. The European Union intends to enter a new post-emergency phase of the pandemic in which testing should be targeted and monitoring of COVID-19 cases should be similar to flu surveillance.
Pandemic Persists Elsewhere
Fauci also said the worldwide COVID-19 picture is different. "If you look at the global setting, there is no doubt this pandemic is still ongoing,” he said.
Globally, the number of new COVID-19 cases and deaths has continued to decline since the end of March 2022, the World Health Organization reports.
During the week of April 18-24, more than 4.5 million cases and more than 15,000 deaths were reported worldwide, representing decreases of 21% and 20%, respectively, compared to the prior week.
The WHO also notes a 9% increase in the Americas and a 32% increase in Africa in new weekly cases of COVID-19. The organization also says some regions saw an increase in new weekly reported deaths, including a 110% jump in the Africa region and a 41% rise in the Southeast Asia region.
"I spoke about this widely – we are not going to eradicate this virus," Fauci told PBS.
Vaccinating people could help keep the level of circulating virus low, although the ideal interval between vaccine doses in the future remains unknown, he said.
"I do appreciate what Dr. Fauci is trying to convey," Rosales says. “He is setting the expectation that after this pandemic, this virus will not magically disappear."
She predicts that although we will get to an endemic phase, the timeline remains unclear.
"Life will not suddenly return to what it was pre-2020," Rosales says. “People are traveling, home tests are resulting in underreporting, and cases in New York City are rising."
Mays says the focus can now shift from an emergency response in the U.S. "at least for now, and we can focus primarily on recovery and on preparedness for the next emergency … including preparedness for the possibility of a new surge in COVID transmission due to new variants and waning immunity."