Dr. Fauci warns US may not return to ‘normalcy’ until 2022

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The earliest doses of a COVID-19 vaccine will likely be rolled out for first responders in late December — but we’ll be stuck with mask wearing, social distancing, and tough restrictions on businesses, theaters and arenas throughout next year, Dr. Anthony Fauci warned Thursday.

“I can forsee that even with a really good vaccine, that mask wearing will continue well into the third or fourth quarter of 2021,” Fauci said in an interview with National Institutes of Health Director Francis Collins.

And only after that, “there will be a graded, gradual progression toward normalcy” in 2022, he said in the half-hour interview.

“We’ve got a long road yet to go,” Collins agreed.

Fauci laid out his most thorough, recent timeline for recovery yet as the U.S. continues to see 70,000 new COVID-19 cases and some 800 deaths a day.

The good news is that right now, more than 100,000 Americans are participating in six promising, final-stage vaccine trials, with Moderna and Pfizer closest to the finish line, Fauci said.

The trial participants are being painstakingly monitored to see if they suffer any complications and if they show a heightened likelihood of avoiding COVID-19, he said.

“Right now, it’s wait and see — it’s wait and see the number of infections,” he said.

The trial data must then clear several levels of independent approval — including from the FDA — before a vaccine becomes available for public use.

Even then, it will take most of next year to roll the vaccine out in accordance with an order of priority set by the CDC’s Advisory Committeed on Immunization Practices and the National Academy of Medicine, he said.

Front-line health care first responders will get vaccinated first, then “the people involved in the critical infrastructure of the community,” Fauci said.

Next should be people with underlying conditions, then the elderly who do not have underlying conditions, “and then you have everybody else,” he said.

That rolling out will take up much of next year, he said — and only then should full restrictions begin lifting.

“What we likely will have, as the efficacy of the vaccine is shown at the population level, is we will have a gradual relaxation of some of the stringent public health measures,” Fauci said.

“I can forsee that even with a really good vaccine, that mask wearing will continue well into the third or fourth quarter of 2021,” he said.

“Then “there will be a graded, gradual progression towards normality. Some examples. I believe restaurants might be able to do indoor, at moderate or full capacity,” he said.

Theaters will then be able to seat people — maybe not initially at full capacity but working your way to that.

“Sports events will then have spectators very likely in graded amounts with regards to capacity,” he said.

“So that ultimately, when we get this under control, we will start to approach what we call normal.  I don’t think it’s going to be at a level where there are no measures implemented until we get to the end of 2021, at least.”

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