U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky warned Wednesday that while infections, hospitalizations, and fatalities are on a downward trend, the numbers are still too high and may result in the United States exceeding 500,000 deaths by February 20.
“If we continue in the current trajectory, the CDC’s most recent national ensemble forecast predicts that 479,000 to 514,000 COVID-19 [coronavirus disease] deaths will be reported by February 20th, 2021,” Dr. Walensky cautioned.
That is between an estimated 50,000 (2,000 per day) and 90,000 (3,750 per day) more deaths than now when the fatalities stand at over 428,000, according to data maintained by Johns Hopkins University.
The CDC chief, however, noted, “If we are united in action, we can turn things around. Continuing to expand safe, effective vaccination is key to ending the COVID-19 pandemic and bringing our country back to health.”
Her comments came during a virtual press briefing by President Joe Biden’s COVID-19 Response Team and other public health officials from the White House.
“There are some hopeful signs that we’re watching very closely,” Dr. Walensky told reporters.
She pointed out that the seven-day average of new cases, infections, and deaths have dropped in recent days.
“While the data trending downward is a good sign, the peak number of deaths reported so far on a single day during the pandemic was recorded on January 20th — 4,383 deaths,” the CDC leader proclaimed.
She noted that the downward trend is encouraging, “but our case rates remain extraordinarily high, and now is the time to remain vigilant.”
Dr. Walensky acknowledged that the number of vaccine doses administered daily is on the rise, marking a record of more than 1.6 million per day over the past week, a number that is on track with Biden’s goal of administering 100 million doses in his first 100 days.
As of Tuesday, health officials from around the country had already administered more than 23.5 million doses of the vaccine, including over 3.4 million who received their second dose, according to CDC data cited by the agency’s director.
Andy Slavitt, the senior adviser to the White House COVID-19 Response Team, told reporters during the press briefing that the Biden administration faces two primary hurdles to its vaccine rollout effort intended to end the pandemic and allow Americans to return to at least some semblance of normality.
The first is getting enough supply quickly enough, and the second is the ability to administer the vaccines quickly once they are available.
“We are taking action to action to increase supply and increase capacity, but even so, it will be months before everyone who wants a vaccine will be able to get one,” he added.
The CDC director stressed that the vaccines are safe, noting that the current risks, such as anaphylaxis, are rare and treatable.
Among other initiatives, Biden plans to boost the weekly supply of vaccines to states and territories by 16 percent next week to speed up vaccinations
On Tuesday, the president said he hopes to have enough doses to vaccinate 300 million Americans by the end of the summer or early fall, marking a change from his previous goal of administering that number of injections by spring.
Just the additional 200 million doses the president plans to purchase from drugmakers Pfizer and Moderna this year will be sufficient to vaccinate every American over the age of 16 by the summer, Slavitt proclaimed.
The vaccines approved so far require two doses. There are some vaccine candidates in the final phase of clinical trials that only require one dose.
Some Columbia University scientists told the New York Times that the vaccine alone would not end the pandemic, stressing that stricter restrictions, including masking and social distancing, must remain in place until mid-summer or later for the inoculation effort to work.
As of Wednesday afternoon, the coronavirus had infected over 25 million and killed more than 428,000, CDC data revealed.