On March 11, 2020, Dr. Anthony Fauci was warning members of Congress that "things will get worse than they are right now," with COVID-19, with the disease having been declared that same day by the World Health Organization as having caused a pandemic.
Thursday morning, one year to the day later, Fauci told ABC's "Good Morning America" that he didn't realize then how devastating the virus would become nationally and worldwide.
"I did not realize in my mind even anything close to more than a half-million people having died in this country," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and now President Joe Biden's chief medical adviser, said.
But now, a year later, the answer to "get us back to normality" will be a blend of vaccinations and a "gradual" easing of restrictions, not a jump to reopen a country that has been largely shut down in an attempt to slow the spiraling disease.
"(That involves) a combination of a very, very aggressive implementation of the vaccine program — which you are actually seeing in real-time — together with a continuation of public health measures and a gradual pulling back, as opposed to just turning a light switch on and off," he said. "It's much better to do that gradually and prudently."
President Joe Biden is to speak Thursday night in primetime on the first anniversary of the pandemic designation and shutdowns, and Fauci said the president must deliver the message that the United States has come a "very long way" over the past year and that there is "light at the end of the tunnel."
On Thursday, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a statement that the vaccinations of millions of people every day are giving her hope that the pandemic can be beaten and "hope that we can get back to being with our family, friends, and community. And soon."
Fauci also appeared on NBC's "Today," where he said it would have "shocked me completely" if he had known the United States' death toll was going to be so high, but added that the politicization of wearing a mask and other public health measures has caused the country to suffer more deaths than any other country.
"One of the things I keep hearkening back to, that you can't run away from, is that you have such divisiveness in our country that even simple, common-sense public health measures took on a political connotation," Fauci told "Today" anchor Savannah Guthrie. "If you wanted to wear a mask you were on this side, if you wanted to stay in and avoid congregate settings, you were on this side. It wasn't a pure public health approach. It was very much influenced by the divisiveness that we had in this country. Mixed messages were coming from Washington, that's for sure."
Fauci said, though, that he is seeing signs of hope, as more than 33 million Americans have been fully vaccinated and more than 2 million shots are going into arms daily.
However, he said moves from some states to reopen businesses to 100% levels and drop their mask mandates are "risky," and he is worried that cases could once again surge.
But he also thinks there could be a "big, big difference" in the United States by late this summer or fall, as more people get their shots.
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