Federal officials on Wednesday offered a look into the bleak winter expected from the pandemic, predicting a death toll of nearly 450,000 Americans by the start of February with 100 million possibly vaccinated by the end of the same month.
“I do think, unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans have died from this virus,” Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said during a virtual conference.
Redfield’s prediction is slightly higher than one from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that puts the death toll at over 415,000 at the beginning of February. The current death toll stands at over 272,000.
World Braces For Another Wave of Coronavirus
“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times,” Redfield said at the U.S. Chamber of Commerce event. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
The CDC leader said that if Americans embrace mitigation strategies, like wearing a mask, mortalities could be decreased. He said he has been disappointed in the politicization of mask-wearing.
“The time for debating whether or not masks work or not is over. We clearly have scientific evidence,” Redfield said.
At a press briefing on vaccine distribution also on Wednesday, Moncef Slaoui, the chief adviser to Operation Warp Speed, said that 100 million American could be vaccinated by the end of February.
Slaoui said that number, which is nearly a third of the U.S. population, is “more or less the size of the significant at-risk population – the elderly, the health care workers, the first-line workers, people with comorbidity.”
In anticipation of emergency regulatory approval for two vaccine candidates from Pfizer and Moderna, federal officials have said that enough vaccines to inject 20 million people should be available this month.
Experts have warned that the coronavirus outbreak will get worse in the coming weeks, with cases, hospitalizations and deaths increasing. A CDC official on Wednesday estimated that the holiday travel that took place over Thanksgiving could result in “hundreds of thousands of additional infections.”