Dr. Robert Redfield, head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, issued a stark warning to Americans about how hard the coming months could be due to the increasing spread of the coronavirus.
“We are at a very critical time now,” Redfield told the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation on Wednesday. “The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation.”
The U.S. is currently experiencing 1,500 to 2,500 deaths per day from the virus.
“I do think, unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans who’ve died from this virus,” Redfield said.
More than 270,000 people in the U.S. have died from COVID-19 in the nine months since the virus began to significantly spread here. Redfield’s projection suggests another 180,000 could die in just two months.
The CDC head noted that Americans can help change the course of the pandemic and reduce the rapid spread of the virus by following measures that public health experts have recommended for months now: social distancing, wearing masks, gathering in small groups outdoors rather than indoors.
“The time for debating whether or not masks work is over,” Redfield added, saying that scientific studies have repeatedly shown the effectiveness of masks in reducing COVID-19 risks.
“Leadership matters in terms of messaging,” said Redfield, urging everyone to “recognize this is a serious situation.”
Outgoing President Donald Trump has repeatedly downplayed the threat of the virus. The White House plans to hold multiple holiday parties, even though Trump and dozens of people surrounding him, including his family members, tested positive after a crowded White House event earlier this fall.
In California, Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) warned on Monday that he may issue a new stay-at-home order as hospitalizations have rapidly increased and intensive care units are projected to surpass capacity by mid-month in many areas of the state.
Redfield said the country was “severely underprepared” for the COVID-19 pandemic. He urged lawmakers to invest in the nation’s public health systems so that “the next time this happens — and there will be a next time — this nation is much more prepared.”