Fauci says time to start 'inching' back toward normality

FILE PHOTO: Senate Health, Education, Labor, and Pensions Committee Hearing on COVID-19 response in Washington
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By Julie Steenhuysen

CHICAGO (Reuters) - Top U.S. infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci said on Wednesday that it is time for the United States to start inching back towards normality, despite remaining risks from COVID-19.

In an interview with Reuters, Fauci said U.S. states are facing tough choices in their efforts to balance the need to protect their citizens from infections and the growing fatigue with a pandemic that has dragged into its third year.

"There is no perfect solution to this," said Fauci, President Joe Biden's top medical adviser and a member of the White House COVID-19 Response Team.

Earlier on Wednesday, U.S. health officials said they were preparing new COVID-19 guidance on many aspects of the virus response as the Omicron surge in cases declines.

That followed announcements by several states including New Jersey, New York, California, Connecticut, Delaware and Oregon that they were lifting mask mandates for schools or other public settings in the coming weeks.

"The fact that the world and the United States and particularly certain parts of the United States are just up to here with COVID - they just really need to somehow get their life back," he said.

"You don't want to be reckless and throw everything aside, but you've got to start inching towards that."

Even with the positive trends, COVID numbers remain high with some 2,200 Americans dying each day, most of them unvaccinated.

The current seven-day daily average of COVID-19 cases is about 147,000, a decrease of some 40% from the previous week, according to government data. Over the same period, hospital admissions fell about 28% to 9,500 per day.

Fauci acknowledged that states' revised policies could involve tradeoffs and some unnecessary infections, but hewing too closely to strict prevention policies was also harmful.

"Is the impact on mental health, is the impact on development of kids, is the impact on schools - is that balanced against trying to be totally pristine and protecting against infection? I don't have the right answer to that," he said.

(Reporting by Julie Steenhuysen; additional reporting by Michael Erman in New Jersey; Editing by Bill Berkrot)