The grim death toll comes on the heels of several brutal months for the US, with Covid-19 ravaging communities from coast to coast, crippling hospital systems and prompting new widespread restrictions.
“We very well might see a post-seasonal — in the sense of Christmas, New Years — surge,” Dr. Anthony Fauci said on CNN’s “State of the Union” Sunday morning, pointing to holiday travel and private gatherings taking place despite the advice of health experts.
The nation’s top infectious disease expert described the potential rise in cases as a “surge upon a surge,” telling CNN’s Dana Bash, “If you look at the slope, the incline of cases that we’ve experienced as we’ve gone into the late fall and soon to be early winter, it is really quite troubling.”
Another surge of cases and hospitalizations will, inevitably, mean more deaths — on top of an already devastating death toll.
“When you’re dealing with a baseline of 200,000 new cases a day and about 2,000 deaths per day, with the hospitalizations over 120,000, we are really at a very critical point,” Fauci said.
“As we get into the next few weeks,” he added, “it might actually get worse.”
“The projections are just nightmarish,” said Dr. Peter Hotez, an infectious disease specialist at the Baylor College of Medicine. “People can still save the lives of their loved ones by practicing that social distancing and masks. And remember, vaccines are around the corner.”
Vaccine roll-out slow in some places, expert says
Nearly 2 million Covid-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the US, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and more than 9.5 million doses have been distributed.
Asked about the apparent slow rollout of vaccines, Fauci told CNN Sunday that large, comprehensive vaccine programs with a new vaccine start slow before gaining momentum.
“I’m pretty confident that as we gain more and more momentum, as we transition from December to January and then February to March, I believe we will catch up with the projection,” he said.
Dr. Esther Choo, a professor of emergency medicine at Oregon Health & Science University, explained that vaccine distribution is “just a very complicated thing.”
“At every step, there’s complexity and there’s possibility for delay, whether it’s individual state planning, allocation, training, supply of vaccine, storage… there (are) just so many factors at this stage,” Choo said.
“We need to be prepared for the fact that it is going to be a slow roll-out in many places and that it will not change our behaviors or necessarily the trajectory of the pandemic in this country in the short term,” Choo said.
Choo’s words echo a number of other experts who have warned the American public not to let their guard down as vaccinations begin and to continue following public health measures including wearing masks, social distancing, avoiding crowds and gatherings, and regularly washing their hands.
It likely won’t be until summer that vaccines are widely available and begin to make a meaningful impact on the pandemic’s course, officials have said. Dr. Fauci estimates about 70% to 85% of the population needs to get vaccinated against Covid-19 for the country to achieve herd immunity.
Expert: Testing requirements won’t help control Covid-19 variant spread
Passengers must have a negative PCR or antigen test within 72 hours of boarding a flight from the UK to the US, along with documentation of their laboratory results. Airlines will be required to confirm the test prior to the flight.
But one expert says the new testing requirements for travelers into the US have not been implemented quickly enough to be effective against a reported variant.
“It makes sense that for any place that’s experiencing a regional spike in cases that we put new measures in place,” emergency medicine physician Dr. Richina Bicette told CNN. “But if they’re trying to make sure that the virus isn’t imported to the United States, these measures are going to have no effect on that whatsoever.”
“The CDC requirements don’t take place until Monday,” Bicette added. “Until that time, there have been thousands, if not hundreds of thousands of people that have traveled into the US from the UK. So there’s a high probability that the new variant is already in the United States and we just don’t know.”
CNN’s Hollie Silverman, Virginia Langmaid and Pete Muntean contributed to this report.