JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Dr. Anthony Fauci, the White House chief medical advisor, told News4Jax this week that opening Florida without coronavirus precautions in place is a “risky proposition” as variants of the sometimes deadly virus continue to surge.
Florida has the most documented cases of the U.K variant, a strain that is more contagious compared to SARS-CoV-2 and has the potential to be more deadly.
The variant known as B117, which first emerged in the United Kingdom, has become the predominant strain in the U.S. The U.S. is setting up a $1.7 billion national network to identify and track worrisome coronavirus mutations whose spread could trigger another pandemic wave, the Biden administration announced Friday.
Florida is also third in the nation for COVID-19 infections overall and positivity rates are rising.
Yet, the state has been open for business for months, and full stadiums and arenas are becoming commonplace again.
“What we don’t want to do is to give this virus, which if left to its own devices, is going to surge up,” Fauci said in an interview with News4Jax. “The important thing, as we get more and more vaccines going into the arms of people, that we will be able to control this virus and get ourselves back to some form of normality. But to prematurely declare victory by pulling back on the public health measures, I believe, is ill-advised.”
Right now, Fauci said the United States is averaging between 60,000 and 70,000 new infections each week.
”That is completely unacceptable because if you stay at that level, there’s a real risk to get another surge,” Fauci said.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis has pushed back against coronavirus precautions, saying that lockdowns are not effective in combating the virus.
Fauci said he encourages people to hang in there a bit longer with “the kinds of things that we know can contain the virus.” That means the universal wearing of masks, physical distancing and avoiding crowded settings.
“Not permanently by any means, but just until the vaccines can take over,” Fauci said.
Vaccine hesitancy is another issue that stands in the way of returning to life as we knew it before 2020.
A new Quinnipiac University poll found that 68% of Americans plan to or already have gotten a COIVD-19 vaccine but more than one-quarter of those surveyed say they don’t plan to get the vaccine.
The poll comes out as government data show half of the adults in the United States have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine and nearly one-third are fully vaccinated.
Among the polls’ findings, younger people and Republicans are the most hesitant to get the shot.
Republicans show the most hesitancy out any group surveyed about getting a vaccine, with 45% saying they do not plan to receive one and 50% saying they’ve either gotten one already or plan to get one.
“In this case, a disturbingly large proportion of Republicans only, actually works against where they want to be,” Fauci said. “They want to be able to say these restrictions that are put on by public health recommendations are things that they’re very concerned about. We’re all concerned about that. We share that concern, but the way you get rid of those restrictions is to get as many people vaccinated as quickly and as expeditiously as possible.”
Fauci told News4Jax that the data so far shows that vaccines work, despite instances of people getting infected with the virus after being vaccinated. He testified before Congress that the current vaccines on the market would also be effective at protecting against the U.K. coronavirus variant.
“There was a report recently of 5,814, I believe, breakthroughs that were seen in people two weeks after they were fully vaccinated. Well, you know when you’re vaccinating 10s and 10s of millions of people, you know the last count that there have been now 131 million people who’ve received at least one dose of vaccine, you know, a couple of thousand breakthroughs still keeps the efficacy of that vaccine within the 90 plus percent bracket, So that’s not surprising to see that.”
Fauci said when it comes to vaccinated people wearing masks, it depends on the level of infection in the community. He said even if you have received the vaccine, you can still spread it to others who are not vaccinated.
“We’re starting to see, and Florida knows this, that there are variants around that are variably protected by the vaccine. Most of the time the protection is really, really very good,” Fauci said. “But in some people, particularly the elderly and others, who even though they are vaccinated, they might be vulnerable to a variant. You want to make sure that we protect everyone ourselves and the people around us.”