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Fauci warns about 'prematurely' dropping mask mandates as DC lifts requirement

(The Hill) — Top infectious diseases expert Anthony Fauci warned on Monday about “prematurely” dropping mask mandates as Washington, D.C., lifts its requirement for indoor masking despite opposition from the city’s council members.

President Joe Biden’s chief medical adviser told NPR’s “Morning Edition” that the city’s move “adds an extra degree of risk” as the country sees rising cases and hospitalization while it heads into the holiday season.

“When you have a dynamic like that … you really gotta be careful,” he said. “Masks are not going to be forever for sure. The more people that get vaccinated, the more people that get boosted, the lower the level of infection in the community will be, and then you start thinking about pulling back on masks.”

“But you don’t want to do it prematurely,” he added. “As much as you’d like to do it, you’ve got to be careful.”

Fauci pointed to the national increase in cases, citing that they are up 29 percent from two weeks earlier. Hospitalizations have ticked up 6 percent, while deaths still are decreasing, although he cautioned fatalities are “usually a lagging indicator.”

D.C. is also experiencing climbing cases, with an 18 percent increase in its daily average of cases compared to two weeks prior, according to data from The New York Times. Hospital admissions are down 20 percent in the city.

When asked about when mask mandates can end, Fauci said it’s “tough to predict” but he’s “hoping as soon as we possibly can.” 

The fact that the 28 million children aged 5 to 11 nationally are now able to get vaccinated gives Fauci hope. 

“If we do a good job in getting the overwhelming majority of that cohort vaccinated, we very well may have a situation where the cases go down and we can say no masks,” he said. “I hope that that’s as we get through the winter and into the spring.”

“But you can’t guarantee it,” he added. “This virus has fooled us before. It’s a very wily virus — this delta variant.”

The U.S. also expanded access to booster vaccinations to all adults on Friday, allowing more adults to get another shot to help extend the protection of the vaccines.

The country is going into the holiday season in better shape than last year, with vaccines readily available, but the rising cases and expected indoor gatherings are worrying some experts.

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