One year after the official start of the coronavirus pandemic, Dr. Anthony Fauci said he would've been "shocked" if you had told him at the time that more than 530,000 people in the United States would die from COVID-19 by this point.
The leader of the White House coronavirus task force reflected on TODAY Thursday exactly a year after the World Health Organization officially declared COVID-19 a pandemic. In even his most grim calculations last year, he would not have thought that the U.S. death toll would be as high as it is today.
"I have to tell you quite honestly, it would've shocked me completely," he told Savannah Guthrie. "I knew we were in for trouble. In fact, that day at a congressional hearing, I made the statement, 'Things are going to get much worse before they get better.' ... But I did not in my in mind think that 'much worse' was going to be 525,000 deaths."
Fauci cited the politicization of public health measures like wearing a mask in such a divided country as a crucial factor in why the U.S. has suffered far more COVID-19 deaths than any nation in the world.
"One of the things I keep hearkening back to, that you can't run away from, is that you have such divisiveness in our country that even simple, common-sense public health measures took on a political connotation," Fauci said. "If you wanted to wear a mask you were on this side, if you wanted to stay in and avoid congregate settings, you were on this side.
"It wasn't a pure public health approach. It was very much influenced by the divisiveness that we had in this country. Mixed messages were coming from Washington, that's for sure."
Despite the darkness of the past year, Fauci has seen signs of hope as more than 33 million Americans are now fully vaccinated and more than 2 million doses are being administered daily.
"There is light at the end of the tunnel, things look good, but we've got to keep putting our foot to the pedal when it comes to public health measures," he said.
Some states have decided to completely reopen businesses to 100% capacity and drop mask mandates, which Fauci called "risky" because there is a chance it could cause another surge in cases. However, he estimates that there could be a general return to normalcy later this year if vaccination efforts continue to be strong across the country.
"I think it's going to be gradual and I think it's really going to start as we get more and more people vaccinated," he said. "I think by the time we get into the mid to late summer, early fall, we're going start seeing a big, big difference."