Over the next few weeks, the U.S. should expect an increase in cases from the BA.2 variant, Dr. Anthony Fauci told ABC News, but it may not lead to as severe a surge in hospitalizations or deaths.
“I would not be surprised if in the next few weeks we see somewhat of either a flattening of our diminution or maybe even an increase,” Fauci told ABC News’ Brad Mielke on the podcast “Start Here.”
His prediction is based on conversations with colleagues in the U.K., which is currently seeing a “blip” in cases, Fauci said. The pandemic trajectory in the U.S. has often followed the U.K. by about three weeks.
However, he added, “Their intensive care bed usage is not going up, which means they’re not seeing a blip up of severe disease.”
The BA.2 variant, a more transmissible strain of omicron, now represents around 23% of all cases in the U.S., according to the latest data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
And while Fauci predicted that the BA.2 variant will eventually overtake omicron as the most dominant variant, it’s not yet clear how much of a problem that will be.
“Whether or not that is going to lead to another surge, a mini surge or maybe even a moderate surge, is very unclear because there are a lot of other things that are going on right now,” Fauci said.
Similar to the U.K., much of the U.S. has recently relaxed mitigation efforts like mask mandates and requirements for proof of vaccination. At the same time, people who were vaccinated over six months ago and still haven’t gotten a booster shot, which is about half of vaccinated Americans, according to the CDC, are facing continuously waning immunity.
It’s also not yet clear how long immunity from prior infection will last, Fauci said.
Taken together, it’s why Fauci and other experts, including CDC Director Rochelle Walensky, have increasingly predicted that elderly people will need a second booster shot soon. The Food and Drug Administration began reviewing data from Pfizer on the safety and efficacy this week, and its advisory panel will debate if and when the additional booster shot is necessary in the coming weeks.
At the same time, Fauci urged Americans who haven’t yet gotten their first booster, which would be their third shot in a Pfizer or Moderna series, to do so.
A resurgence of cases could also mean Americans are asked to wear masks again, which Fauci predicted would be an uphill battle.
“From what I know about human nature, which I think is pretty much a lot, people are kind of done with COVID,” Fauci said.
Still, he defended the CDC decision to loosen its mask recommendations earlier this month by shifting to a strategy that focused more on severe outcomes, like hospitalizations and deaths, rather than on daily case spread.
“You can go ahead and continue to tiptoe towards normality, which is what we’re doing, but at the same time, be aware that you may have to reverse,” Fauci said.
And if the U.S. does continue to make its way back toward normal times, Fauci himself has a personal choice to consider. At 81 years old, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases is “certainly” thinking about retirement.
“I have said that I would stay in what I’m doing until we get out of the pandemic phase and I think we might be there already, if we can stay in this,” Fauci said, referring to the falling cases and hospitalizations in the U.S.
“I can’t stay at this job forever. Unless my staff is gonna find me slumped over my desk one day. I’d rather not do that,” he said, laughing.
While he doesn’t currently have retirement plans, the recent hire of Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health, to be White House coronavirus coordinator, could alleviate some of his pandemic response duties and give him a window.
But Fauci, who has dedicated his career to public health, primarily studying HIV and AIDS, and worked under seven U.S. presidents, said he doesn’t have any particular hobbies waiting for him in retirement.
“I, unfortunately, am somewhat of a unidimensional physician, scientist, public health person. When I do decide I’m going to step down, whenever that is, I’m going to have to figure out what it is I’m going to do,” he said.
“I’d love to spend more time with my wife and family. That would really be good.”