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Fauci blames rise in cases on easing of COVID restrictions

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of

Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, testifies in Washington on March 18. Credit: AP/Susan Walsh

Loosening of COVID-19 restrictions in many states is driving a rise in virus cases after a sharp leveling off, explaining why virus transmission remains stubbornly high, the nation's top infectious disease specialist said Sunday.

Exposure of more Americans to dangerous COVID-19 variants cannot solely explain the growing virus caseload, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

Easing of restrictions is a key reason why new virus cases keep cropping up, Fauci said on CBS' "Face the Nation."

"The variants are playing a part, but it is not completely the variants," Fauci told CBS' Margaret Brennan.

"What we're likely seeing is because of things like spring break and pulling back on the mitigation methods that you've seen. Now, several states have done that. I believe it's premature," he said. "When you're coming down from a big peak and you reach a point and start to plateau, once you stay at that plateau, you're really in danger of a surge coming up. And unfortunately, that's what we're starting to see."

Fauci said the rates should drop as the U.S. accelerates its vaccination effort and inoculates Americans at a fast daily clip.

"We now have three to 3.5 million vaccinations each day. If we keep up at that pace, invariably that's going to drive the rate and the level of infections per day to a much, much lower level," Fauci said.

In New York, the positivity rate has been inching up since March after dropping in January and February after post-holiday season highs.

Also Sunday, the former White House coronavirus task force coordinator, Dr. Deborah Birx, discussed political interference in the response to the virus from senior Trump administration officials.

Birx said in a CNN interview, part of which was released Sunday morning: "I knew I was being watched. Everybody inside was waiting for me to make a misstep so that they could, I guess, remove me from the task force."

Birx said she was contacted by White House officials after saying in an interview last August that people in rural America were just as susceptible to the virus as those living in cities.

She had warned rural Americans: "To everybody who lives in a rural area, you are not immune or protected from this virus."

The most pointed blowback came from former President Donald Trump, she said.

"It was even more direct, than what people have heard," Birx said. "It was very uncomfortable, very direct and very difficult to hear."

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