Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and...

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks during a committee confirmation hearing in Washington, D.C., on Tuesday. Credit: Bloomberg/Stefani Reynolds

WASHINGTON — Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, warned Sunday that the U.S. is "going in the wrong direction" as the highly transmissible delta variant of COVID-19 and low vaccination rates in certain areas are spurring an increase in new infections.

Fauci, chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told CNN’s "State of the Union" that the uptick in cases "is an issue predominantly among the unvaccinated, which is the reason why we're out there practically pleading with the unvaccinated people to go out there and get vaccinated."

The U.S. is averaging about 43,700 new cases per day over the past week — a 65% increase over the previous week, according to data released last Friday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"We're going in the wrong direction," Fauci said when asked to weigh in on projections from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub that indicate the daily U.S. death toll could increase to 850 people per day by mid-October if the country's vaccination rate does not improve. The U.S. now is averaging 253 COVID-related deaths per day, according to CDC data.

Asked if the federal government should encourage Americans to resume wearing masks even if they are vaccinated, Fauci said the question is under "active consideration" but said for now the CDC continues to defer to local officials to decide what mandates are best for their communities.

"If you look at what's going on locally, in the trenches, in places like [Los Angeles] County, the local officials have the discretion, and the CDC agrees with that ability and discretion," Fauci said.

Former U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams, who served in the Trump Administration, said he is concerned the coronavirus is "spiraling out of control yet again" and urged the CDC to issue new guidance encouraging the use of masks when in public.

"Let's go out there and clarify that, yes, if you were vaccinated and you're around other people who were vaccinated, you are still probably safe," Adams said during an appearance on CBS’ "Face the Nation." "But if you're out in public, if you're around people who you don't know whether they're vaccinated or not, and especially if you're in a community where prevalence is going up … it is probably going to be safest for you to mask it whether or not you're vaccinated or not."

Fauci, asked about the need for booster shots of the three federally approved vaccines, said public health officials were continuing to evaluate data, before adding that it was "likely" that if a third booster shot is needed, individuals who are immunocompromised, such as cancer patients, will be "among the first" in line to receive it."

"It's a dynamic situation," Fauci said. "It's a work in progress. It evolves, like in so many other areas of the pandemic. You have got to look at the data."

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