With two-and-a-half years of the COVID pandemic under our belts and new threats on the horizon, many people feel like they have no fight against the coronavirus left in them. But the COVID pandemic is not over: A majority of people in the U.S. are still living in communities with high coronavirus spread as of Aug. 4, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). This is largely due to the Omicron subvariant BA.5, which the agency’s data shows is dominating the country at 85.5 percent, though there are already new subvariants picking up steam. As we wait to see what move the virus makes next, the nation’s most dominant voice in the pandemic is expressing a major frustration amid this seemingly endless cycle. Read on to find out what the White House’s top COVID adviser is now blasting Americans for doing.
There’s no denying that significant improvements have been made in the fight against COVID. This past winter—when the original Omicron variant was surging—hospitalizations were four times as high as they are now and there were nearly six times as many deaths then, CNN reported. Despite this, numbers are still rather high right now: Each day, there are over 6,000 new COVID hospital admissions in the U.S. and nearly 400 deaths, according to the CDC.
Nevertheless, we seem to have hit a COVID plateau as numbers have stayed largely consistent over the past month. But where we go from here is something no one knows for sure. “We’ve never really cracked that: why these surges go up and down, how long it stays up and how fast it comes down. All these things are still somewhat of a mystery,” Eric Topol, MD, a cardiologist and professor of molecular medicine at Scripps Research, told CNN. “Right now, the question is what comes as we descend from BA.5. It could take weeks.”
If you think you’re tired of the COVID pandemic, you’re hardly alone. Anthony Fauci, MD, who has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) since 1984 and then stepped into the role of President Joe Biden’s chief medical advisor in 2020, told Politico last month that he thinks “we’re going to be living with” the coronavirus for many years to come.
That isn’t the only thing Fauci now acknowledges: He’s also willing to share frustrations with how the pandemic has been allowed to progress since 2020. During an Aug. 9 public interview at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center in Seattle, Washington, the infectious disease expert blasted the many Americans who have refused to get vaccinated, expressing his disappointment and concern over the country’s divided outlook on the disease.
“We’re in a very difficult situation,” Fauci told Fred Hutch director Larry Corey, MD, the virus expert who led the recent live conversation. “A third of the people in our country are vaccinated and probably boosted. How can that possibly be when you have a disease that’s killed one million Americans and you have a hesitancy to use lifesaving interventions? What world are we living in?”
During the Fred Hutchinson conversation, Fauci said the refusal to accept lifesaving interventions amid the COVID pandemic has changed the way he thinks about Americans’ willingness to accept science. The NIAID director suggested that if health experts had known at the start of the pandemic “what we know now,” they would have tried implementing policies like masking and social distancing even earlier. “But the country would not have accepted what we were saying,” Fauci said.
In his july interview with Politico, Fauci admitted that it’s even harder now to get Americans to adhere to COVID guidance than it was at the beginning of the pandemic. “It’s becoming more and more difficult to get people to listen, because even the people who are compliant want this behind them,” he said. “What I try to convince them [of], with my communication method, is we’re not asking you to dramatically alter your lifestyle. We’re not asking you to really interfere with what you do with your life. We’re just asking you to consider some simple, doable mitigation methods.”
For the first two years of the COVID pandemic, Fauci often spoke about ending the pandemic through herd immunity. But in March 2022, the NIAID director and his colleagues published an article in the Journal of Infectious Diseases explaining that herd immunity for COVID is “almost certainly is an unattainable goal” now, largely because of the public’s “substantial resistance” to methods like vaccination.
Since Dec. 2020, vaccination rates in the U.S. have still not managed to reach the levels Fauci previously touted were needed for herd immunity. And now, they are faltering. According to the CDC, there has been no increase in the amount of people getting vaccinated in the last week. As of Aug. 3, only 67.2 percent of the total U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, and less than 50 percent of those people have gotten their first booster dose.
During an appearance on Los Angeles radio station KNX News’ KNX In Depth on Aug. 2, Fauci warned that those not up-to-date with their vaccinations could be putting themselves at risk for the fall and winter. “There are enough people who don’t fall into [high-risk] categories, that if they don’t get vaccinated, if they don’t get boosted, they’re going to get into trouble,” he said.