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Here’s what Dr. Anthony Fauci says about COVID-19 mask mandates, vaccine

Former White House adviser not predicting ‘tsunami’ of hospitalizations, deaths despite COVID-19 increases

SHARE Here’s what Dr. Anthony Fauci says about COVID-19 mask mandates, vaccine
Dr. Anthony Fauci speaks during a press briefing at the White House in 2022.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a press briefing at the White House on Nov. 22, 2022, in Washington.

Patrick Semansky, Associated Press

Could a federal mask mandate be coming as COVID-19 cases continue to climb nationwide?

That’s not what’s going to happen, according to Dr. Anthony Fauci, who served as a top adviser on the deadly virus for two presidents during the pandemic and now teaches at Georgetown University in Washington, D.C.

“I don’t see that in the future at all,” Fauci said during an interview that aired Sunday on ABC’s “This Week,” adding, “certainly not federal mandates. I would be extremely surprised if we would see that.”

While requirements could be imposed by some “local organizations” if there’s a significant uptick in cases, what’s most likely are “recommendations, not mandates. There’s a big difference there,” he said.

And even if masking is eventually recommended again, the advice for when to use masks would probably be limited to “certain circumstances and indoor crowded settings,” Fauci suggested.

It’s been nearly a year and a half since a federal judge struck down the national mandate that masks be worn on public transportation. In recent weeks, a few mask mandates have popped up around the country amid outbreaks at colleges, offices and hospitals.

Why Fauci says it’s wrong to say masks don’t work

Masks work, said Fauci, who headed the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases for decades before retiring from government service last year, describing a study released in January and seen as discounting their effectiveness as “causing a lot of confusion.”

Even the authors of the oft-quoted study from the Cochrane Library have said it can be misleading, Fauci said, because “people have commented on their study, saying absolutely masks don’t work, which is absolutely not the case.”

In March, the Cochrane Library editor-in-chief, Karla Soares-Weiser, issued a statement saying claims that the study shows that masks don’t work “is an inaccurate and misleading interpretation.”

It would be accurate, she said, “to say that the review examined whether interventions to promote mask wearing help to slow the spread of respiratory viruses, and that the results were inconclusive,” since the study did not address whether masks reduce risk.

Fauci said there are a number of studies that show masks do work and that only a couple of the studies compiled as part of the Cochrane Library’s analysis were specifically looking at COVID-19, “so I think we’d better be careful.”

COVID-19 indicators, including hospitalizations, are headed up both nationally and in Utah, but Fauci said even though Americans need to be ready for that to likely continue through the fall and winter, it won’t be as bad as in the past.

“I wouldn’t say that I’m alarmed, but I’m certainly keeping an eye on it,” he said, adding because the level of immunity from vaccinations and past infections is also higher, “the chances of this being an overwhelming rush of cases and hospitalizations is probably low.”

Fauci said he and other public health experts are not “predicting that this is going to be a tsunami of hospitalizations and deaths, the way we saw a year or more ago,” especially since new COVID-19 booster shots should be available shortly.

FDA approves new COVID-19 vaccine

The updated vaccine, which received approval from the federal Food and Drug Administration Monday, is targeted at an early version of the omicron variant of the virus, XBB.1.5, also known as Kraken.

But Fauci said it’s “pretty well-matched” to what’s currently circulating, including EG.5 or Eris, and even the newest omicron variant, BA.2.86 or Pirola, which has yet to be detected in Utah.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention still needs to sign off on the updated shots and spell out who can get what is expected to be an annual dose of COVID-19 vaccine for most Americans, similar to a flu shot.

Fauci said he didn’t want to get ahead of the CDC decision, although he believes those who are vulnerable to the virus — the elderly and those with certain underlying conditions — should get the shots.

“But I believe we should give the choice to people that are not in the high-risk groups, to have the vaccine available for them,” Fauci said. “We have experience with this type of vaccine in billions of people. It’s a safe vaccine.”