It’s the million dollar question: When can life go back to normal?
Anthony Fauci is asked this a lot.
“It’s very difficult to predict, but I would think we would approach a certain degree of normalcy when we get towards the end of summer and into autumn, and a significant degree of normalcy when we get into winter in the coming year, ”he told Insider in a recent interview.
Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, specifically referred to life in the United States. He pointed to two main factors that will determine whether his timeline is correct: “If we get the overwhelming majority of the population vaccinated, and it turns out, as I suppose: that vaccinated people do not send.”
Both of these variables are trending in a positive direction. Growing evidence shows that shots approved by the United States actually prevent vaccinated people from transmitting the virus quickly, thereby preventing its spread.
“I think in the end that will be the case,” Fauci said.
In terms of the number of Americans being vaccinated and how quickly, the startup has been impressive. Vaccination rates in the United States double from February to March and then again from early March to early April. More than 3 million doses are now given on average in the United States, and 20% of Americans are fully vaccinated.
If enough people are vaccinated, the United States could approach herd immunity
In clinical trials before their shots were approved, Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson only showed that their vaccines prevent symptomatic COVID-19. They did not test whether their vaccines prevented asymptomatic cases.
But of course, it is difficult to stop the transmission without limiting asymptomatic infections. Now a growing research group suggests that people who get the vaccines are less likely to spread the virus.
Still, Fauci said, “we have not finally proven it yet.”
Studies also increasingly show that the shoots offer protection that lasts at least six months.
Once enough Americans have been vaccinated, the United States could approach herd immunity: the point where enough people are either vaccinated or immune due to an infection to prevent the virus from spreading overall. Fauci has estimated that this threshold may be between 70% and 85% of the population.
“If we could just hold on for a while, we would reach a point where the protection of the general community by the vaccine would really make it very unlikely that we would get a new wave,” he said.
If the number of US vaccinations continues to double month by month, the country could reach this threshold as early as June.
President Biden has already asked states to move the date on which every American over the age of 16 will be eligible for a vaccine until April 19th. According to a study by Kaiser Health News, the percentage of Americans who said they were hesitant to get vaccinated has halved since January. And on Friday, Pfizer asked U.S. regulators to make their shots available to young people between the ages of 12 and 15 when a recent experiment showed that it works for that age group.
“We ultimately want and will have to get kids into that mix,” Fauci said during a Senate hearing in March.
Fauci said US should not ‘withdraw too soon’
Determining when we return to normal, of course, depends on how it is defined.
If usually means a return to non-essential travel, things look up: the CDC announced last week that vaccinated Americans can travel by plane, train or bus in the United States without having to be quarantined or tested. However, they need masks.
But if usually involves a return to frequent dining at indoor restaurants or regularly going to bars, concerts and sporting events without a high risk of coronavirus infection, it is a more complicated issue.
States like New York, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have already loosened coronavirus-related restrictions on collection sizes and relaxed capacity limits at restaurants and gyms. Texas, meanwhile, eliminated capacity constraints for all state-owned enterprises, including bars.
But all of these changes were at odds with recommendations from the CDC, and recent reopens have coincided with increases in cases. The frequency of new infections is trending upwards in 18 states.
“We are at an interesting crossroads where we have the virus in this country at a very worrying level, more than 60,000 new infections a day,” Fauci said. “So it’s a bit of a race between the vaccine and the possibility that there will be another wave.”
In his own life, Fauci said, he still avoids crowded, indoor places where people remove their masks even though he has been vaccinated. The CDC also recommends that vaccinated Americans avoid large and medium-sized gatherings and continue to mask. For most, this means continuing to approach restaurants, bars and cinemas with great caution.
Still, Fauci is optimistic about avoiding a fourth coronavirus wave given the speed of the U.S. vaccine rollout: “We are definitely going in the right direction,” he said.
“I think if we play it right, if we continue to vaccinate at the rate that we vaccinate people and we do not withdraw too early on our mitigation, then we should be fine,” Fauci added.
We may need to continue wearing masks for a while
If returning to normal means everyone can throw off their masks, it’s probably the longest timeline.
At least 18 states do not currently have mask mandates – several of them, including Texas and Mississippi, revoked their state mandates last month.
But Fauci believes masks could hold up next year given the overwhelming study showing how effectively masks reduce coronavirus spread.
When Fauci was asked to make a prediction about when masks will stop being standard, “he did not want to go there.”
“Someone comes back and throws it in my face,” he said.