The first month of Joe Biden’s administration could be the deadliest period in the nation’s COVID-19 pandemic, one of his top officials warned Sunday.
Dr. Rochelle Walensky, who is nominated to lead the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, expects the country’s coronavirus death toll to reach 500,000 by mid-February. That would be a jump of about 100,000 in just a few weeks since the number of confirmed deaths was just short of 400,000 on Monday.
“By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country,” she told CBS’ “Face the Nation” on Sunday.
The grim prediction comes after another devastating week in the U.S., with the seven-day average for new deaths surging past 3,300, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The latest numbers reflect a surge of infections and hospitalizations in multiple states, including Alabama, Arizona, California and Florida.
Walensky, who currently serves as chief of the infectious diseases division at Massachusetts General Hospital, said her estimate doesn’t even account for the tens of thousands of people who are living with “a yet uncharacterized syndrome” long after recovering from the virus.
“And we still yet haven’t seen the ramifications of what happened from the holiday travel, from holiday gathering in terms of high rates of hospitalizations and the deaths thereafter,” she said. “So, yes, I think we still have some dark weeks ahead.”
The outgoing CDC director, Dr. Robert Redfield, issued a similar warning over the weekend, telling NPR that the country is “about to be in the worst” phase of the pandemic.
His likely successor criticized the agency’s response to the crisis in an opinion piece published by The New York Times last week.
“I acknowledge that our team of scientists will have to work very hard to restore public trust in the C.D.C., at home and abroad, because it has been undermined over the last year,” Walensky wrote.
“The C.D.C.’s science — the gold standard for the nation’s public health — has been tarnished,” she added. “Hospitals, doctors, state health officials and others rely on the guidance of the C.D.C., not just for Covid-19 policies around quarantine, isolation, testing and vaccination, but also for staying healthy while traveling, strategies to prevent obesity, information on food safety and more.”
On “Face the Nation,” Walensky said she plans to brief the public “as often as I can” in an attempt to restore trust and transparency to the agency.
“When there are new things to report, you will hear from somebody at the CDC and it may very well be me,” she said.