The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued perhaps his starkest warning yet about the dangerous months ahead for the United States, predicting that the covid-19 death toll could reach 450,000 by February.
“The reality is, December and January and February are going to be rough times,” Robert Redfield, who leads the CDC, said at a U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation event on Wednesday. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
Redfield has been sounding the alarm for months about a devastating surge of new infections during the fall and winter, predicting in April that the subsequent virus waves could be worse than the first. Now, with new coronavirus cases at record levels and reported deaths steadily increasing, Redfield’s dire prediction may be vindicated — and he says the worst is still to come.
“We’re in that range potentially now, starting to see 1,500 to 2,000 to 2,500 deaths a day from this virus,” Redfield said. “So, yeah, the mortality concerns are real, and I do think, unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans that have died from this virus.”
The United States has already reported more than 272,000 deaths, according to data tracked and analyzed by The Washington Post. And by early Wednesday evening, the country had already recorded nearly 2,700 fatalities, nearing the single-day record of 2,967 set in mid-April.
But, Redfield said, “It’s not a fait accompli. … We’re not defenseless.” He argued that social distancing and mask use are proven mitigation strategies, and he seemed to indirectly criticize President Trump for undermining their effectiveness.
“When you really want to get everybody on board, you’ve got to have clear, unified, reinforced messaging,” Redfield said, lamenting that “we were still arguing in the summer about whether masks work.”