Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious disease specialist, said Sunday he is "as confident as you can be" about the prospect of most states reaching a peak of omicron cases by mid-February.
"You never want to be overconfident when you're dealing with this virus," Fauci told ABC "This Week" co-anchor Martha Raddatz, adding that the COVID-19 virus has "surprised us in the past."
"Things are looking good. We don't want to get overconfident, but they look like they're going in the right direction right now," he said.
Fauci said there are states in the northeast and in the upper midwest where cases have already peaked and declined "rather sharply" but that cases are still rising in southern and western states.
"There may be a bit more pain and suffering with hospitalizations in those areas of the country that have not been fully vaccinated or have not gotten boosters," he warned.
When Raddatz asked "what should life look like" going forward and about the "long-term strategy" for dealing with future peaks and variants, Fauci said the hope is the level of infection will be below what he calls an "area of control."
"Control means you're not eliminating it, you're not eradicating it, but it gets down to such a low level, that it's essentially integrated into the general respiratory infections that we have learned to live with."
Fauci said the aspiration is that future variants won't "disrupt society" or "create a fear of severe outcomes that are broad" but that the country should still be "prepared for the worst-case scenario."
"We'd like it to get down to that level where it doesn't disrupt us in the sense of getting back to a degree of normality. That's the best-case scenario."
As the Biden administration begins to ship out free COVID-19 tests to Americans and provide free masks across the country, Fauci told Raddatz these kinds of protections could help keep future variants at a "lower level."
"What about the next booster shot?" Raddatz pressed, noting that it's now been five months since some Americans received their booster. "How soon should we get another one?"
"We don't know," Fauci responded, adding that it's unclear whether an additional booster shot will be recommended since scientists are still trying to determine how much protection is provided by the first booster. But, he said, it's "quite conceivable, and I hope it's true, that the third shot boost will give a much greater durability of protection."
"We may need to boost again, but before we make that decision, we want to determine what the durability is," Fauci added.
Data released on Tuesday shows that nearly 1 million children tested positive for COVID-19 last week, according to new a weekly report by the American Academy of Pediatrics and the Children's Hospital Association, and 28.8 million eligible children still remain completely unvaccinated.
Some schools in the U.S. are opting to remove mask mandates, and when asked by Raddatz if it is "safe to send your kids back to school without masks," Fauci stressed their importance, along with other mitigation efforts.
"You surround the children with people who are vaccinated. For the children who are eligible to be vaccinated, get them vaccinated. And provide in the school masks where you can have children protected, as well as ventilation to make sure that you can get a respiratory infection at its lowest level of infectivity. All of those things go together. And masking is a part of that."