In this Jan. 21, 2021 file photo, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaks with reporters at the White House, in Washington. Credit: AP / AP

WASHINGTON — The nation’s top infectious disease expert says the U.S. could see significant steps toward a return to the pre-pandemic normal, even before the country reaches coronavirus herd immunity.

Dr. Anthony Fauci said best estimates when enough people are immune to end the outbreak range between 70-85 percent of the population — a figure expected to be attained by late summer or early fall.

He said as the pace of vaccination ramps up and the most vulnerable to the virus are protected, some government restrictions could be lifted.

“You don’t have to wait until you get full herd immunity to get a really profound effect on what you can do,” he said.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky cautioned only about 10 percent of the population is fully vaccinated, but her agency anticipated loosening federal guidelines as more people receive shots.