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Coronavirus could worsen in winter, remain major threat through 2021, Fauci says

FILE - In this April 7, 2020, file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks about the coronavirus in Washington. With New York City at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. and its native-born among those offering crucial information to the nation in televised briefings, the New York accent has stepped up to the mic. Fauci's science-based way of explaining the crisis at White House briefings has attracted untold numbers of fans, and New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's news conferences have become must-see TV. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon, File)
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious diseases expert, speaks about the coronavirus on April 7. (Alex Brandon / Associated Press)

The COVID-19 pandemic could worsen in the winter and continue to be a looming threat through much of 2021.

That is the forecast of Dr. Anthony Fauci, the federal government’s top infectious diseases expert, in a wide-ranging discussion about the pandemic that he delivered this week to the Berkeley Forum.

Fauci warned that a sense of normality post-coronavirus may not come to the U.S. until late 2021, adding that the arrival of a vaccine will not suddenly bring the U.S. lurching back. Rather, it’ll be a gradual transition over a long period of time.

Fauci offered analysis at the Thursday forum about where we stand on the pandemic — from the importance of masks to the mistakes made by colleges, the dangers of internet disinformation and the grim toll COVID-19 is taking on nonwhite communities.

Masks may be part of a return to normal for some time

The U.S. faces two problems: The vaccine won’t be 99% effective, and a substantial proportion of Americans have indicated they will not take the inoculation.

“So let’s say you have a 75% effective vaccine, and 65% to 80% of the people want to get vaccinated: You still have a lot of people in society … that are vulnerable to be infected,” Fauci said. That means “we’re going to softly go into a graded degree of normality.”

In this new normal, more types of businesses will be able to reopen. But some pandemic protections may still be needed for a longer period than others.

“Will people have to wear masks? Yes, likely,” Fauci said. “I would imagine that if we get a good vaccine now, that we could have some degree of normality in the third quarter to the fourth quarter of 2021.

“I think ultimately, we will get back to normality as we knew it before this. But … it’s going to be a gradual process, in which the restrictions on things — restaurant numbers, theater attendance, spectators at sports [events] — all of that will come back gradually. But it will come back.”

We could be in for a tough winter

At the moment, the U.S. is still diagnosing about 40,000 new infections of the coronavirus daily — “which is unacceptably high,” Fauci said, as the nation moves into the cooler seasons.

“We’ve got to get that down or otherwise, we’re going to have a very tough winter in the next few months,” Fauci said.

According to the Los Angeles Times’ coronavirus tracker, California has averaged about 3,300 new coronavirus cases a day for the last week — a number that’s still higher than during the initial springtime wave of cases that prompted the state’s first stay-at-home order.

Los Angeles County on Wednesday reported its highest daily count of coronavirus infections since Aug. 22, highlighting the continued dangers of the virus even as more businesses are opening up.