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Fauci is worried that US coronavirus cases will remain at 70,000 a day

Dr. Anthony Fauci listened as President Biden (out of frame) spoke on Thursday.
Dr. Anthony Fauci listened as President Biden (out of frame) spoke on Thursday.SAUL LOEB/AFP via Getty Images

The baseline level of coronavirus cases needs to fall further before the United States can confidently resume normal activities, even as the vaccine rollout accelerates, Anthony Fauci said.

Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, made the rounds of Sunday talk shows at a moment when news related to the pandemic has been positive, but fresh concerns are emerging.

“We’ve seen what happens when you pull back prematurely,” Fauci said on CBS’s “Face the Nation.” “We will be” victorious over the coronavirus, “but we’re not there yet.”

Even though cases have plunged from 300,000 a day to about 70,000, “that baseline’s too high,” Fauci said on NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “The thing you don’t want is to have a plateauing.”

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The country added 75,194 new cases on Friday, compared with the weekly average of almost 69,000.

Fauci was asked on CBS about an incident at the Conservative Political Action Conference in Florida this weekend, where South Dakota Governor Kristi Noem got wild applause for her criticism of him.

“I don’t know if you agree with me, but Dr. Fauci is wrong a lot,” Noem said on Saturday.

“I’m sure you can get a standing ovation by saying I’m wrong,” Fauci said. “The numbers don’t lie.”

On Monday, the U.S. passed the milestone of 500,000 deaths to Covid-19; that number is now closer to 512,000. The nation’s first death from the virus was announced during the CPAC meeting a year ago.

The FDA gave formal approval Saturday to a third vaccine for use in the U.S. The Johnson & Johnson vaccine, which requires only a single shot, is expected to quickly accelerate the number of people who are fully protected once the company ramps up production later this spring.

Johnson & Johnson is prepared to ship 3 million to 4 million doses in the week ahead.

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“You now have three highly efficacious vaccines, for sure,” Fauci said on NBC. “If I would go to a place where they had J&J, I would have no hesitancy whatsoever to take it.”

While the U.S. vaccine rollout has accelerated and is poised to do so further, health officials are worried that states will move too quickly in lifting restrictions, even as more contagious variants are gaining ground.

California this month resumed outdoor high school sporting events, including football games, for first time in a year; and New York City resumed indoor dining on Feb. 12. Several states have eased mask mandates.

“We understand the need and the desire, understandably, to want to just pull back because things are going in the right direction,” Fauci said.

“But you’ve got to get that baseline down lower than it is now, particularly in light of the fact that we have some worrisome variants that are in places like California and New York and others that we’re keeping our eye on.”