White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci has warned that a more severe Covid variant could emerge as the U.S. daily new case average is now approaching 100,000 per day, exceeding the level of transmission last summer before vaccines were available.
Fauci, in an interview with McClatchy, said the U.S. could be “in trouble” if a new variant overtakes delta, which already has a viral load 1,000 times higher than the original Covid strain.
Delta has upended the U.S. response to the pandemic, as it has proven capable of infecting even people who are vaccinated. Moderna warned on Thursday that breakthrough infections will become more common as the delta variant continues to spread.
However, vaccines still provide strong protection against severe illness and death and the overwhelming majority of new infections are among people who are unvaccinated. Moderna, for example, said Thursday that the booster shot its developing produced a robust immune response against delta.
Fauci warned in the Wednesday interview that the U.S. is “very lucky” to have vaccines that have held up against the variants, suggesting that may not be the case if even more severe strains emerge.
“If another one comes along that has an equally high capability of transmitting but is also much more severe, then we could really be in trouble,” Fauci told McClatchy in the interview, published Wednesday evening. “People who are not getting vaccinated mistakenly think it’s only about them. But it isn’t. It’s about everybody else, also.”
The U.S. is reporting a seven-day average of nearly 94,000 new cases as of Aug. 4, up 48% from one week ago, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. In a separate measure from the average, the U.S. actually topped 100,000 daily new cases on Monday and Tuesday.
Fauci predicted that new case totals could eventually reach “somewhere between 100,000 and 200,000 cases” per day as the delta variant spreads.
The recent Covid surge has most severely affected unvaccinated individuals, and Fauci said there remain roughly 93 million eligible, unvaccinated people nationwide.
In a series of interviews CNBC conducted in July, multiple health officials echoed Fauci’s concerns over the emergence of a new variant. Dr. Stephen Morse , a professor of epidemiology at the Columbia University Irving Medical Center, said in an email that the “cycle of new variants keeps repeating as long as the virus infects people and circulates in the population, allowing opportunities for the virus to evolve.”
“I’d be very surprised if Delta were the last of the line,” Morse said.
And Dr. Barbara Taylor, a dean and infectious disease professor at UT Health San Antonio, added that future variants “that increase transmission will have the advantage” moving forward.
“As long as we have active spread of disease anywhere on the globe, we will continue to see new variants because we are giving the virus opportunities to evolve,” Taylor said in an email.