Dr. Anthony Fauci said Thursday that the U.S. should not relax restrictions that have been put in place to slow the spread of coronavirus until new infections are under 10,000 per day, a number that is about 85% lower than current case levels.
Fauci said that the case levels may have to be “considerably less” than 10,000 per day for him to support rolling back mask and social distancing mandates in place in many U.S. cities and states.
The U.S. has registered an average of between 60,000 and 70,000 new cases a day over the past week, far lower than the case spike seen in December and January.
The steep decline comes as the U.S. has ramped up distribution of several coronavirus vaccines.
Earlier this week, the governors of Texas and Alabama announced they would end mandates requiring masks in businesses and public areas.
Fauci told CNN’s Jake Tapper that he disagreed with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s decision.
“Well, I wouldn’t want to see a light switch go on and off with regard to restrictions,” said Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
“I would like to see as we get the level of virus in the community to a very low level, well, well below the 60,000 to 70,000 new infections and somewhere.”
“I’ll just pick a number even though there’s not a good model there yet,” he continued, “but I would say less than 10,000 and maybe even considerably less than that.”
Fauci also said that he would like to see “a substantial proportion” of the population vaccinated before restrictions are lifted.
Around 15% of the U.S. population has received at least one dose of vaccines distributed by Pfizer and Moderna.
Fauci said that states could “gradually” pull back restrictions as case counts continue falling, saying that “you don’t want to go from very stringent public health restrictions to just turning it off and say that’s it.”
“You particularly don’t want to do that when you have a high level of community spread which is what we have now 60 to 70,000 new infections per day.”
“So I want us to all start getting back to some degree of normality, but we want to do that gradually and not all of a sudden, abruptly.”
The U.S. has not registered less than 10,000 cases of the virus since March 22, 2020, according to data from The New York Times.
Cases hit their peak of just over 300,000 on Jan. 8, 2021, according to The Times.