Fauci offers long-term view on COVID-19: the worst may be over in terms of omicron

The president’s chief medical advisor, Dr. Anthony Fauci, expressed optimism this weekend on ABC's This Week, that the worst may soon be over in terms of the omicron variant, predicting that the latest surge in omicron cases will peak by mid-February and then come down. 

Fauci also shared his views on how society may handle COVID-19 long-term.

"We’d like it to get down to that level where it doesn’t disrupt us, in the sense of getting back to a degree of normality," Fauci said.

 Fauci said the world will likely never be completely rid of the virus and the goal is to bring it under control.

"Control means you're not eliminating it, you're not eradicating it. But it gets down to such a low level that it's essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections that we have learned to live with," said Dr. Fauci.

Infectious disease experts say the hope is that COVID-19 will turn into something akin to the common cold or flu.

"Then we’ll have to incorporate it into what we do with other respiratory pathogens and live with it," said infectious disease expert Dr. Monica Ghandi of UCSF Health.

But exactly how COVID-19 might be treated down the road is still unclear.

"That we don’t know, if we’re going to need recurrent Covid vaccinations," said Ghandi.

Ghandi said the hope is that once the omicron surge is over, enough of the population will have gained immunity to COVID-19, to kickstart what’s being described by health experts as the endemic.  

"What it means in the endemic phase is that we take out the pandemic measures. We take out asymptomatic testing. We likely won’t be telling people to mask. Certainly mask if you want to, but that won't be mandated," said Dr. Ghandi.

Ghandi said health departments would continue to track cases and hospitalizations.

"Finally, therapeutics is one of the most important parts of endemic management, and we need more oral antivirals to help anyone who’s declined to vaccinate," added Ghandi.

Still health experts say now is not the time for people to let their guard down.

"That’s what Dr. Fauci was talking about today. We really do need it to be low cases for us to go into an endemic state," said Ghandi.

Meanwhile, Dr. John Swartzberg, an infectious disease expert at UC Berkeley's School of Public Health, described Fauci's predictions as both "reasonable" and "informed", but also noted that the virus has been difficult to predict in the past, and may be difficult to predict in the future. 

Swartzberg said one concern, is the potential for another variant to arise.

"If it’s a variant that is something far worse than delta or omicron, something that can evade the immunity we get from a previous infection, or the immunity we get from vaccines, then all bets are off," said Swartzberg.

But, Swartzberg described that as a worst case scenario, and says he remains optimistic about the future.

"If we don’t have another variant that is really problematic, by this summer we could really be at a period where we’re saying you know we’re living with this, and we can realistically be much more relaxed," said Swartzberg.

 Ghandi says the best for way for society to move towards an endemic quickly is for more people to get vaccinated.