The United States should not expect a return to normal until “well into 2021, maybe even towards the end of 2021,” Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said on Friday.

In an interview with “Andrea Mitchell Reports” on MSNBC, Dr. Fauci addressed when people would most likely be able to do things again that they had done before the pandemic, such as going to an indoor movie theater “with impunity.” While a vaccine may be available by the end of the year, he said, “by the time you mobilize the distribution of the vaccinations, and you get the majority or more of the population vaccinated and protected, that’s likely not going to happen till the mid or end of 2021.”

Dr. Fauci was also asked about comments he had made on Thursday in a panel discussion at Harvard Medical School, where he said “we need to hunker down and get through this fall and winter because it’s not going to be easy.” Ms. Mitchell pointed out that this conflicted with what President Trump had said at the White House on the same day, that the country had “rounded the final turn” on the virus.

“I have to disagree,” Dr. Fauci said of Mr. Trump’s optimistic read on the situation.

“We’re plateauing at around 40,000 cases a day and the deaths are around 1,000.” He raised concerns that Labor Day could make that number rise again, as Memorial Day and the Fourth of July had done before.

But in any case, he said “what we don’t want to see is going into the fall season when people will be spending more time indoors — and that’s not good for a respiratory borne virus — you don’t want to start off already with a baseline that’s so high.”

As of Thursday, there had been an average of 35,629 cases per day over the previous week, a decrease of 16 percent from the average two weeks earlier, according to a Times database. Case numbers remain persistently high across much of the country, though reports of new cases have dropped considerably since late July, when the country averaged well over 60,000 per day.

But even as many of the country’s most populous states saw vast improvement — and as the Northeast kept case reports low — new infections were rising by late summer across parts of the Midwest and South.

Deaths, though still well below their peak levels in the spring, averaged around 700 per day in mid-September, more than were reported in early July.

NYTIMES

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