The U.S. is entering a new phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the nation’s leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Fauci told the Financial Times that the U.S. is heading out of the “full blown” pandemic stage of COVID-19, which he attributed to a combination of vaccinations, treatments and prior infections of the virus. He added that the U.S. would “soon” be able to lift all pandemic-related restrictions.

The rollback of restrictions Fauci hoped would include mandatory mask wearing in the coming months – a decision he expected would come at the local level, he told the news outlet.

“As we get out of the full-blown pandemic phase of COVID-19, which we are certainly heading out of, these decisions will increasingly be made on a local level rather than centrally decided or mandated. There will also be more people making their own decisions on how they want to deal with the virus,” Fauci said.

Fauci’s optimism comes as COVID cases decrease across the country after spiking Omicron cases dominated the holidays. The milder Omicron variant made up as much as 99.9% of all COVID cases in January, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Many countries around the world have also eased their COVID restrictions, with some international leaders saying that the pandemic has now reached an “endemic” stage. But Fauci continues his conservative views about the virus, saying that “there is no way we are going to eradicate this virus.”

He told the news outlet, “I hope we are looking at a time when we have enough people vaccinated and enough people with protection from previous infection that the COVID restrictions will soon be a thing of the past.”

While Fauci maintained that the easing of COVID restrictions could happen as soon as this year, he hedged that local health departments could reimplement safety measures if virus outbreaks occurred in specific communities, the Financial Times reported.

More than 909,000 people have died from COVID-19 in the U.S., and 5.7 million have died globally from the virus, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

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Top U.S. pandemic advisor Anthony Fauci is pictured. AFP / SAUL LOEB