Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease expert and a White House medical adviser, says the U.S. is rapidly moving out of the "full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19" and toward a scenario where living with the virus will become more manageable.
In an interview with The Financial Times, Fauci said that with the omicron surge subsiding, he's hopeful that the U.S. will reach immunity levels that will limit the spread of the virus in the weeks ahead.
He also said that at that point, local health agencies should feel comfortable rolling back mask mandates.
"As we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, which we are certainly heading out of, these decisions will increasingly be made on a local level rather than centrally decided or mandated," Fauci told The Times. "There will also be more people making their own decisions on how they want to deal with the virus."
The number of daily COVID-19 infections in the U.S. is falling rapidly after reaching a peak of more than 800,000 a day in mid-January. And while hospitals remain full in some areas of the country, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports the number of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 has been falling in recent weeks.
Scientists hope that the silver lining of the omicron surge is that those who survived will develop antibody protection from the virus. Combined with a steady stream of vaccinations — about 81% of eligible Americans have at least one dose, and 43% of those who have been vaccinated have gotten a booster shot — Fauci says the U.S. may be in a place where it can finally reasonably deal with the virus.
Fauci added that while it's unlikely the world will eradicate COVID-19, increased immunity and new treatments like antiviral pills and antibody treatments will make the virus less deadly moving forward.
"There is no way we are going to eradicate this virus," Fauci told The Times. "But I hope we are looking at a time when we have enough people vaccinated and enough people with protection from previous infection that the COVID restrictions will soon be a thing of the past."