Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’s leading infectious-disease expert, is fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, but it seems unlikely that you’ll find him dining in any restaurants or catching a movie in theaters just yet.
“There are things, even if you’re vaccinated, that you’re not going to be able to do in society,” Fauci said on Monday during a White House COVID-19 press briefing. “For example, indoor dining, theaters, places where people congregate. That’s because of the safety of society.”
Fauci’s comments came on the same day the US passed the grim milestone of 500,000 confirmed COVID-19 deaths. He stressed that while being vaccinated dramatically increases one’s “own personal safety,” it’s not a free pass to party as if it’s 2019, at least not yet.
“Because the burden of virus in society will be very high — which it is right now,” he said.
Vaccines don’t necessarily prevent the spread of COVID-19
Though the number of new coronavirus cases reported each day in the US has fallen dramatically in recent weeks, the virus is still spreading, with nearly 450,000 COVID-19 cases documented in the past week.
“We are still at an unacceptably high baseline level,” Fauci said at Monday’s briefing.
Though vaccines can help prevent people from contracting severe cases of COVID-19, the jabs may not stop them from getting sick altogether. It’s also still unclear whether vaccinated people can be disease carriers, meaning they might spread illness to unvaccinated people in a community where vaccination is far from universal, prolonging the pandemic.
“We hope that when the data comes in, it’s going to show that the virus level is quite low and you’re not transmitting it,” Fauci said, cautioning: “We don’t know that now. And for that reason, we want to make sure that people continue to wear masks despite the fact that they’re vaccinated.”
Early signs are looking promising that vaccinated people may not spread the virus well, but it’s still too soon to say for sure.
Fauci has suggested waiting until the fall to reopen movie theaters
Fauci’s remarks came on the same day when Gov. Andrew Cuomo of New York announced that movie theaters in his state would reopen in early March. Indoor weddings and catered events of up to 150 people will also be allowed to resume in New York mid-March.
Fauci has suggested before that a better strategy would be to reopen theaters in the fall, when a more “substantial portion” of the US has been vaccinated.
In the meantime, there’s still the possibility for safe, distanced (and masked) outdoor sports and events, including Fauci’s favorite, baseball.
“I would hope that by the time we get into May, June, July, that we will have enough people vaccinated in the country that the level of infection would be low enough — maybe not yet total herd immunity — but low enough to say that we can go to a game, you know: wear a mask, but be seated — not sitting right next to each other,” Fauci previously said during an online Q&A with JAMA.
COVID-19 vaccines are already giving relief to millions of people across the country, on an individual level, from the prospect of severe disease and death.
“People are interested in taking the vaccine in large numbers for the same reason people are interested in taking the vaccines for MMR and for the flu,” Andy Slavitt, the White House senior advisor for COVID-19 response, said at the briefing with Fauci.
“Because they want to live. They don’t want it to be sick, and they don’t want to die.”