Fauci Warns of More Pain From Pandemic, Though New Lockdowns Not Likely

MONDAY, Aug. 2, 2021 (HealthDay News) -- More "pain and suffering" is coming as coronavirus cases climb in the United States, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Sunday, but additional lockdowns are unlikely because enough Americans are now vaccinated to avoid the level of surge seen last winter.

The warning comes as the country records 35 million cases and California becomes the first state to pass 4 million cases, an NBC News tally showed.

Just days ago, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reversed course to recommend that even vaccinated people return to wearing masks indoors in parts of the country where the highly contagious Delta variant is fueling infections. In making the switch, federal health officials pointed to studies showing vaccinated people can spread the virus to others.

Most new infections continue to strike unvaccinated people, but breakthrough infections can occur in vaccinated people. While the vast majority of those cases are mild or cause no symptoms, new research shows the vaccinated can carry nearly the same amount of the virus as those who did not get the shots.

"So we're looking, not, I believe, to lockdown, but we're looking to some pain and suffering in the future because we're seeing the cases go up, which is the reason why we keep saying over and over again, the solution to this is get vaccinated and this would not be happening," Fauci said on ABC's "This Week."

According to data through July 30 from Johns Hopkins University, the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases rose from 30,887 on July 16 to 77,827 on July 30, the Associated Press reported. The seven-day rolling average for the country's daily new deaths climbed over the same period, from 253 on July 16 to 358 on July 30, though death reports generally lag weeks after infections and hospitalizations.

As of Monday, 58% of Americans 12 years and older were fully vaccinated, CDC data shows.

Luckily, vaccinations are up 56% in the past two weeks, as more people roll up their sleeves amid the threat of the Delta variant, Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told CNN on Sunday.

Louisiana alone, which has the most new cases per capita among all states in the past 14 days, has seen vaccinations climb threefold over that same period, Collins noted.

"That's what desperately needs to happen if we are going to get this Delta variant put back in its place, because right now it's having a pretty big party in the middle of the country," Collins said.

Collins added that the shots are working "extremely well" and reduce a person's risk of serious illness and hospitalization "25-fold" against the Delta variant. The guidance for vaccinated people to start wearing masks indoors again in places with outbreaks, he said, is mostly meant to protect the unvaccinated and immunocompromised people.

The CDC has also recommended indoor mask-wearing for all teachers, staff, students and visitors at schools nationwide, regardless of vaccination status.

New data details dangers of Delta variant

A new internal government document claims the Delta variant appears to cause more severe illness than earlier coronavirus variants and spreads as easily as chickenpox.

In laying out the evidence that this variant looks like the most dangerous one yet, the document urges health officials to "acknowledge the war has changed," the Washington Post reported.

Shared with officials from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the document reveals that the agency knows it must revamp its public messaging to emphasize vaccination as the best defense against a variant so contagious that it acts almost like a different novel virus, spreading faster than Ebola or the common cold, the Post reported.

It cites a combination of recently obtained data from outbreak investigations and outside studies showing that vaccinated individuals infected with the Delta variant may be able to transmit the virus as easily as those who are unvaccinated. Vaccinated people infected with Delta have viral loads similar to those who are unvaccinated and infected with the variant, the Post reported.

"I finished reading it significantly more concerned than when I began," Robert Wachter, chairman of the department of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told the Post.

CDC scientists were so alarmed that the agency changed masking guidance for vaccinated people earlier this week, even before making the new data public, the newspaper said.

The data cited in the document prompted revamped recommendations that call for the fully vaccinated to wear masks indoors in public settings in certain circumstances, the CDC acknowledged.

Some of the data suggests there is a higher risk among older people for hospitalization and death, regardless of vaccination status. Other evidence estimates there are 35,000 symptomatic infections per week among 162 million vaccinated Americans, the Post reported.

The document also includes CDC data showing that the vaccines are not as effective in immunocompromised patients and nursing home residents, raising the possibility that the vulnerable will need a booster dose.

Walter Orenstein, associate director of the Emory Vaccine Center in Atlanta, said he was struck by data showing that vaccinated people who became infected with Delta shed just as much virus as those who were not vaccinated.

"I think this is very important in changing things," Orenstein said.

A person working with the CDC on the Delta variant, who spoke on the condition of anonymity, said genetic data that came from a July 4 outbreak in Provincetown, Mass., showed vaccinated people were transmitting the virus to other vaccinated people. The person said the data was "deeply disconcerting" and a "canary in the coal mine" for scientists.

"I think the central issue is that vaccinated people are probably involved to a substantial extent in the transmission of Delta," Jeffrey Shaman, a Columbia University epidemiologist, told the Post. "In some sense, vaccination is now about personal protection — protecting oneself against severe disease. Herd immunity is not relevant as we are seeing plenty of evidence of repeat and breakthrough infections."

The document confirms that it is time to change how people think about the pandemic, experts said.

"We really need to shift toward a goal of preventing serious disease and disability and medical consequences, and not worry about every virus detected in somebody's nose," Kathleen Neuzil, a vaccine expert at the University of Maryland School of Medicine, told the Post. "It's hard to do, but I think we have to become comfortable with coronavirus not going away."

More information

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has more on COVID-19.

SOURCES: Associated Press; CNN; NBC News; ABC News; Washington Post

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