Dr. Anthony Fauci, chief medical adviser to the White House, spoke with ABC News’ Phil Lipof to answer questions about the new COVID-19 variant, the spread of monkeypox and mask mandates.
For the first time since May, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is predicting that the number of daily hospitalizations due to COVID-19 will increase. Currently, the seven-day average hospital admission rate is nearly 6,000 people a day as of July 13, up more than 13% from last week.
The new variant, named BA.5, is now estimated to account for more than half of all new COVID cases in the U.S., making up 65% of cases.
“The thing about BA.5 that is disconcerting is that it is able to escape some of the immune protection that you get from prior infection as well as vaccination,” Fauci told ABC News. “It has a transmission advantage over the prior variants, which is the reason why we’re seeing an uptick in cases and in some areas even an increase in hospitalization.”
“The good news is that vaccinated and boosted people, particularly those who receive the full component of the boosting, are generally pretty well protected against severe disease,” Fauci added.
Fauci, who tested positive for COVID last month and was prescribed two separate courses of the antiviral treatment Paxlovid, recommended the drug, which was first authorized for emergency use by the FDA to treat COVID-19 in December 2021, for anyone with the disease who is “high risk” such as those who are 65 and older or immunosuppressed according to the CDC.
They should take the drug, he said, “in order to prevent them from progressing to severe disease.”
Earlier this month, the FDA said that pharmacists could prescribe Paxlovid in an effort to expand access.
One concern that has emerged with the Paxlovid is a rebound effect, which Fauci himself experienced. The CDC describes it as a “recurrence of symptoms or a new positive viral test after having tested negative.”
“The fact that we have people who might rebound with a positive test or even with some symptoms happens,” Fauci said. “But that’s not a reason not to take the drug.”
Fauci still encouraged mask-wearing to prevent the spread of COVID-19, despite mandates being relaxed across the country, including for air travel and public transportation, stating that “masks are still effective regardless of what the variant is.”
“Just because people are not wearing masks is not a reason for you not to wear a mask,” he said. “You can still protect yourself very well with a properly fitted, adequate mask.”
Fauci also discussed the new monkeypox outbreak with ABC News. He emphasized that monkeypox, a disease caused by the monkeypox virus, is something that should be “take[n] seriously,” adding that there are vaccines and antiviral medications available for those who meet eligibility criteria in some places to prevent and treat the disease.
Fauci admitted that the more than 1,000 confirmed cases in the U.S. as of July 14 were likely an “undercount” during the interview with ABC News.
“It is, in fact, spreading at a rate that we feel we must address with testing and with vaccinations,” he said.