In two days, a new administration will be handling the COVID pandemic in the U.S. And on the eve of becoming the director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Rochelle Walensky, MD, selected by President-elect Joe Biden to lead the CDC at this crucial time, issued a very bleak warning about the coming days of the pandemic. COVID-19 has already claimed the lives of almost 400,000 Americans, but in the next month alone, Walensky predicts another 100,000 people may die, bringing the total number to half a million. In an interview with CBS News’s Face the Nation on Sunday, Jan. 17, Walensky said: “By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country. That doesn’t speak to the tens of thousands of people who are living with a yet uncharacterized syndrome after they’ve recovered. 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. I think we still have some dark weeks ahead.”
Read on to hear more from this new voice in the fight against COVID, and for more on what not to do to stay safe, check out The CDC Warns Against Using These 6 Face Masks.
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The CDC’s national forecast predicts up to 30,000 new deaths by early February.
Walensky noted we’re at “nearly 4,000 deaths a day, almost 400,000 deaths total.” The latest version of the CDC’s weekly national ensemble forecast, issued on Jan. 13, projected between 16,200 and 29,600 new deaths in the week ending Feb. 6, bringing the total number of deaths at that point to between 440,000 and 477,000 across the United States.
While new cases are peaking and starting to fall, that means hospitalizations and deaths are likely to climb next, hence the expected rise in death count. Scott Gottlieb, MD, the former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), also appeared on Face the Nation on Jan. 17. As he explained, “We’re seeing a near-term peak in terms of the number of new daily cases. Now, unfortunately, deaths and hospitalizations will continue to grow over the next two or three weeks because they’re a lagging indicator. But we’ll see continued declines probably for about four weeks, maybe five weeks until this new variant starts to take over.” Read on for more on the new variants causing concern, and for another warning on that subject, see why Dr. Fauci Just Warned of These 2 “More Ominous” COVID Strains.
The new mutations worry experts for 3 reasons.
Walensky, the former chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital where she worked on HIV/AIDS policy both domestically and internationally, made clear that virus mutations are to be expected with COVID-19. “It’s not just coronavirus, it’s many viruses and they mutate when they’re under pressure,” she said on Face the Nation.
“When we see these mutations, we worry about several things,” she explained. The main causes for concern are whether the mutations have “increased transmissibility,” whether they have “increased morbidity and mortality,” and whether they will “evade our mechanisms of either treatment or our vaccines.”
“So far, the one from the U.K. looks like it is more transmissible. We don’t have any more information about whether it evades our vaccines,” Walensky said. “We have indication that it likely does not. But what increased transmissibility means is there are more cases and therefore more deaths. There are certainly further studies that are looking at the South Africa strain, at the Brazil strain, and other strains in Nigeria.”
Walensky added that the growing number of new mutations proves the U.S. needs to do more sequencing to determine what strains are becoming more dominant. “One of the things that this really demonstrates is our need to be vigilant and to have resources to do the surveillance, to make sure we understand what strains are here,” she said. And for more on where the U.K. strain is in the States as of now, check out The New U.K. COVID Strain Is Now in These 15 States.
She says there are 100 million doses of the COVID vaccine for the next 100 days.
“We are confident that we have enough vaccine for the 100 million doses over the next 100 days. That is what the President-elect has promised,” Walensky said. “It will be a hefty lift, but we have it in us to do that. And in order to do that, we have to look at the supply for sure. We have to titrate and make sure that there are enough people getting vaccinated, but not too many as to overwhelm the system.”
In regards to any challenges getting that supply of vaccine into the arms of the public, Walensky added that “we have to make sure that there are enough vaccinators. I know that the President-elect has committed to use the Defense Production Act to make sure that where there are any bottlenecks in that supply, we will, you know, address those bottlenecks.” And for the one thing you need to quit before getting inoculated, know that If You Take These OTC Meds, You Have to Stop Before Getting the Vaccine.
She hopes to get younger kids and middle schoolers back in classrooms soon.
In order to quickly reopen schools, Walensky said “one of the things we want to do is make sure that we can vaccinate our educators and people in our school systems.” Walensky said the Biden administration hopes to get enough teachers vaccinated, get necessary resources to elementary and middle schools, and bring down infection rates enough to be able to “[get] our K through eight kids back… that is the anticipated goal.” And for more on the latest in where COVID is spreading, check out This Is How Bad the COVID Outbreak Is in Your State.