Incoming CDC Director: Expect 500,000 Covid-19 Deaths By Mid-February

By Travis Caldwell & Holly Yan

In less than a year, Covid-19 has killed almost 400,000 Americans.

And in just the next month, another 100,000 lives could be lost to the disease, the incoming director of the US Centers For Disease Control and Prevention said.

"By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country," Dr. Rochelle Walensky said on Sunday.

"That doesn't speak to the tens of thousands of people who are living with a yet uncharacterized syndrome after they've recovered," said Walensky, who was chief of infectious diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital before President-elect Joe Biden picked her to lead the CDC.

Some people who have had Covid-19 have suffered symptoms months after testing positive.

"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," Walensky said.

"I think we still have some dark weeks ahead."

What to expect this next month

The CDC published a composite forecast last week projecting between 440,000 to 477,000 Covid-19 deaths in the US by February 6.

While some states are starting to see improved outlooks in their fights against Covid-19, others are struggling badly.

At least 126,139 patients were hospitalized across the US on Saturday -- less than the record-high of 132,447 patients on January 6.

North Dakota, which has been under a mask mandate, saw its number of active Covid-19 cases drop 80% since a mid-November outbreak, Gov. Doug Burgum said Friday.

That mask mandate will expire Monday.

"Our case numbers and hospital capacity have improved dramatically in North Dakota over the past two months, and with three new tools we didn't have last fall -- vaccines, rapid tests and effective therapeutics -- we can see the light at the end of the tunnel," Burgum said.

"However, this fight isn't over, and we need all North Dakotans to continue to exercise personal responsibility, follow protocols and keep wearing masks where physical distancing isn't possible. The day will come when we can take off our masks and discard them with confidence, but only if we do what's needed now to keep ourselves, our families and our communities safe."

In Illinois, three regions of the state are moving into less-restrictive lockdown measures.

"I'm happy to report today that the majority of Illinois regions are making good progress," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Friday.

The state will soon see the return of group fitness classes, "lower risk youth and recreational sports" and the reopening of museums, the governor said.

But much of the country is still in trouble. As of Sunday, 46 states had test positivity rates higher than 5%, according to Johns Hopkins University.

For perspective, the World Health Organization has recommended governments not reopen until their test positivity rates stay at or below 5% for at least 14 days.

A recent coronavirus projection from the University of Washington estimates more than 566,000 deaths in the US by May 1. The university's Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation said the figure could be lowered by thousands with universal mask requirements.

100 million doses in 100 days

Dr. Walensky said Sunday that the Biden administration will address "bottlenecks" in Covid-19 vaccine distribution and fulfill its goal to deliver 100 million doses in 100 days.

"I think that there are bottlenecks in different places across the entire system," Walensky told "Face the Nation."

"Different states are having different challenges -- how much is being rolled out to each state, whether those states have adequate personnel, whether those states are getting vaccine to pharmacies," she said. "Our job is to make sure that with the entire support of the federal government, that we address all of those bottlenecks wherever we are, so we can get vaccine into people's arms."

President-elect Biden says his goal is to distribute 100 million vaccine doses in his first 100 days of office.

"We have looked carefully, and we are confident that we have enough vaccines for the 100 million doses over the next 100 days," Walensky said. "It will be a hefty lift, but we have it in us to do that."

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