Fauci: We shouldn't end restrictions until we get to 10,000 cases per day -- or considerably less

Fauci: We shouldn't end restrictions until we get to 10,000 cases per day -- or considerably less

It should be stressed that he’s talking (I think) about the benchmark for completely ending pandemic restrictions. He’s willing to scale back restrictions at higher levels of community spread, provided that we don’t get rid of them altogether.

And even Texas hasn’t done that. The mask mandate has been lifted and businesses are open at full capacity but local authorities are empowered to issue new regulations based on the number of recent hospitalizations in their communities. We shouldn’t treat restrictions like a light switch, where we go from strict capacity limits to nothing, Fauci warns Jake Tapper in the clip below. But Texas hasn’t done that either. They were at 75 percent capacity for many businesses before Greg Abbott’s new order authorizing a full reopening. It was a gradual adjustment.

Still. Consider just how difficult it’ll be to reach a benchmark of 10,000 cases per day — or “considerably less,” ideally, in Fauci’s words. The last time we had as little as 10,000 confirmed cases in a single day in the United States was March 22, 2020, 348 days ago. Apart from a handful of days last May and June, it’s also been nearly a full year since we’ve seen fewer than *20,000* cases per day. And remember, those case counts were being recorded at a time when America’s testing capacity was still poor, much less extensive than it is now. In reality, we were generating many more than 10,000 infections per day last March; the low case count was due to the fact that we were still at a primitive stage of detecting them then.

Which means it’s possible we haven’t seen a day with fewer than 10,000 infections for a full year, possibly since February 2020. Question, then: Realistically, will case counts drop below 10,000 per day even after everyone who wants a vaccine has gotten one? Something like 15 percent of Americans insist that they won’t get the shot under any circumstances. That’s 45 million people. Even allowing for the fact that many will be immunized the old-fashioned way and some are children who probably won’t be very contagious regardless, we’re still talking about a pool of millions who’ll remain vulnerable to the virus. Couldn’t they generate 10,000 infections per day among themselves? Especially during a more contagious winter season?

A 10K-per-day benchmark seems like an awfully high bar for a return to full normalcy, then. Even if we soften up that 15 percent of holdouts and convince nearly everyone to get vaccinated, it’ll be a matter of many months before the entire population has access to the shot. And assuming we can get everyone done by September, we’ll probably have to turn around and all get boosters again as the virus threatens a resurgence in colder weather.

Pandemic restrictions basically forever, in other words. Not strict restrictions, perhaps, but still. Masks recommended next winter, restaurants at 75 percent or 50 percent capacity?

Maybe Americans are getting used to the idea:

The irony is that the same poll has the number who think the pandemic is getting a little or a lot better at 60 percent, the highest it’s ever been. Americans are becoming more optimistic! And … also more resigned that their lives will remain disrupted into next year.

What Fauci and his colleagues on Biden’s team are really worried about are the new variants. It’s not a sure thing that we’ll end up with a fourth wave of the virus driven by more contagious strains, but it’s certainly possible:

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Thursday that the more-transmissible B.1.1.7 variant was showing up in between 20% and 30% of the viruses obtained in surveillance checks in states including Florida, California and Georgia. Those figures — just 1%-2% four weeks ago — likely will double within 10 days, he said.

When that variant turned up in 50% in surveillance checks in parts of Europe and the Middle East, “we (saw) a major surge in (overall) cases” — and the same could happen in the US, he said.

“Everything that the governors are doing right now to relax all the public health recommendations that we’ve made are only going to be a major invitation of this virus to spread faster and farther,” Osterholm told CNN’s “New Day.”

Watch the first few minutes here as Fauci lays out his possibly impossible benchmark. For what it’s worth, Biden doesn’t seem to be hurt by the extreme caution counseled by his advisors. According to a new AP poll, Sleepy Joe is at 70 percent approval on handling the pandemic, including 44 percent among Republicans. That’s probably chiefly a reaction to the increasing pace of vaccinations, but Biden’s sustained emphasis on masks and not reopening too soon is no problem for him right now. We’ll see how things look in two months if and when tens of millions more people have been immunized and the White House is still urging governors not to open up too soon.

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