U.S. fatalities from COVID-19 may be as low as 60,000 — far fewer than earlier projections — because of safety measures such as social distancing, the nation’s top infectious disease expert said Thursday.

“The real data are telling us it is highly likely we are having a definite positive effect by the mitigation things that we’re doing, this physical separation,” Anthony Fauci, director of the U.S. National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC in an interview.

“I believe we are going to see a downturn in that, and it looks more like the 60,000, than the 100,000 to 200,000” projected fatalities, he said. “But having said that we better be careful that we don’t say, ‘OK, we’re doing so well we could pull back.'”

Deborah Birx, the top public health official coordinating the White House’s coronavirus task force, projected March 31 that as many as 240,000 Americans could die as a result of the coronavirus outbreak, even with another 30 days of the most stringent public health restrictions.

That analysis caused President Donald Trump to retreat from ambitions to urge Americans back to work by Easter.

At Wednesday night’s briefing of the task force, Birx said that two prominent models for the U.S. mortality for the COVID-19 pandemic — from Covid Act Now and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — had been yielding decreased fatality projections based on what Americans are doing to mitigate the spread.

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Separately, Fauci told CBS on Thursday that he sees the U.S. making progress toward normalization in the near future, as the April 30 end of the currently mandated social-distancing period approaches.

“Hopefully, by the time we get to the summer, we will have taken many steps in that direction,” he said.

But Fauci cautioned that the virus has different progression rates in various parts of the U.S. that may necessitate a range of timetables.

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Fauci was asked if he can envision a summer where Americans are returning to beaches, celebrations, and other normal seasonal activities.

“Yes,” he said, “if we do the things that we need to do to prevent the resurgence” and “identify, isolate, contact, trace,” to avoid future spikes.

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