The head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned on Wednesday that the pandemic will pose the country’s grimmest health crisis yet over the next several months.
Dr. Robert Redfield, director of CDC, made the remarks in a Dec. 2 virtual event hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, during which he raised the alarm over the winter dynamics of the outbreak and urged stricter adherence to safety precautions. He called for “critical mitigation steps” like wearing face coverings, social distancing, avoiding congregating indoors, and good hand hygiene to slow the spread of the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.
“The reality is December, January, and February are gonna be rough times,” Redfield said. “I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation, largely because of the stress that it’s going to put on our healthcare system.”
Besides the substantial loss of life, which Redfield estimated at another 150,000-200,000 CCP virus deaths before February, he warned that the surge in hospitalizations is “one of our great concerns.”
He said 90 percent of all hospitals are in areas designated as coronavirus “hot zones” and that the virus continues to spread on a much steeper trajectory than any previous wave of the pandemic.
The sober message from Redfield followed Thanksgiving holiday observances in which millions of Americans disregarded warnings to avoid travel and large gatherings despite a surge in infections and hospitalizations.
“Now, one of the major drivers of transmission is not the public square,” he said. “It’s actually the home gatherings, where people let down their guard. You bring in family members and they don’t realize that the major presentation of this virus for individuals, say under the age of 40, is it’s totally asymptomatic,” he said. The virus then spreads to people who are vulnerable, such as the elderly, and they end up developing symptomatic illness and become hospitalized, he said.
“The mortality concerns are real,” he said, noting recent reports of deaths due to the virus at over 2,000 per day.
His warning came as U.S. health experts on Wednesday welcomed British emergency approval of the COVID-19 vaccine developed by Pfizer/BioNTech, a sign that U.S. regulators may soon follow suit.
Britain said it would start inoculating high-risk people early next week, a move that could help reassure Americans about the prospect of an expected mass-vaccination program reminiscent of the anti-polio campaigns of the 1950s and 1960s.
“This should be very reassuring. An independent regulatory authority in another country has found this vaccine to be safe and effective for use,” Health Secretary Alex Azar told Fox Business on Wednesday.
A panel of outside advisers to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) is due to meet on Dec. 10 to discuss whether to recommend emergency-use authorization of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine. Moderna’s vaccine is expected to be reviewed a week later.
A CDC advisory committee recommended on Tuesday that medical workers and residents of long-term care facilities should be first in line to receive initial doses of the vaccines.
Reuters contributed to this report.