CDC director: More than 90% of U.S. remains susceptible to coronavirus

Death toll in US due to coronavirus surpasses 200,000

One day after the U.S. recorded more than 200,000 coronavirus-related deaths, the director of the Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said an overwhelming majority of Americans remain susceptible to the deadly pandemic.

Dr. Robert Redfield made the remarks during a U.S. Senate hearing on Capitol Hill.

On Tuesday, the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, which has been globally tracking the virus for months, reported the U.S. passed 200,000 coronavirus-related deaths, far more than any other nation. On Wednesday, the number passed 201,000, as did the number of confirmed coronavirus illnesses in the U.S., which stands now at more than 6.9 million.

“It is completely unfathomable that we’ve reached this point,” Jennifer Nuzzo, a Johns Hopkins University public health researcher, told The Associated Press on Tuesday. The number of dead in the U.S. is equivalent to a 9/11 attack every day for 67 days. It is roughly equal to the population of Salt Lake City or Huntsville, Alabama.

On Tuesday, the CDC recommended all traditional Halloween-style celebrations and activities, including trick-or-treating and indoor costume parties, be canceled because of their high coronavirus transmission risks.

On Wednesday, Johnson & Johnson began a huge final study to try to prove if a single-dose COVID-19 vaccine can protect against the virus.

The study is one of the world’s largest coronavirus vaccine studies so far, testing the shot in 60,000 volunteers in the U.S., South Africa, Argentina, Brazil, Chile, Colombia, Mexico and Peru.

A handful of other vaccines in the U.S. — including shots made by Moderna Inc. and Pfizer Inc. — and others in other countries are already in final-stage testing. Hopes are high that answers about at least one candidate being tested in the U.S. could come by year’s end, maybe sooner.

U.S. health officials insist the race for a vaccine isn’t cutting corners.

“We want to do everything we can without sacrificing safety or efficacy — we’re not going to do that — to make sure that we end up with vaccines that are going to save lives,” Dr. Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, told reporters.

But many vaccine specialists question whether the Food and Drug Administration will stick to that goal under intense pressure from the Trump administration. President Donald Trump has consistently presented a faster timeline for a new vaccine than experts say is adequate to fully test the candidates.

As the coronavirus pandemic began bearing down on the U.S. in March, Trump said if the U.S. could keep the death toll between 100,000 to 200,000 people it would indicate that his administration had “done a very good job.”

“If we didn’t do our job, it would be three and a half, two and a half, maybe 3 million people,” Trump said Friday. “We have done a phenomenal job with respect to COVID-19.”

After revelations in a new book by journalist Bob Woodward that Trump intentionally played down the seriousness of the virus earlier this year, Trump’s opponent this fall, Democrat Joe Biden, said, “You’ve got to level with the American people — shoot from the shoulder,” adding, “There’s not been a time they’ve not been able to step up.”

Trump has insisted he wasn’t downplaying the severity of the virus when he compared it with the seasonal flu and undercut public health officials who pushed for more stringent mitigation efforts.

Trump continues promising a coronavirus vaccine will be approved within weeks. The president has championed his administration’s aggressive vaccine push, but Democrats have responded by raising doubts a shot approved under Trump can be trusted, making the coronavirus vaccine an election flashpoint.

“We will deliver a safe and effective vaccine before the end of the year, and it could be very, very soon. It could be very, very soon,” Trump said at a campaign rally last week.

“I trust vaccines, I trust scientists, but I don’t trust Donald Trump,” Biden said last week after receiving a briefing on COVID-19. Trump responded by accusing Biden of pushing “anti-vaccine theories.”

A group of nine pharmaceutical and biotechnology companies made a public pledge last week, promising to only seek approval for COVID-19 vaccines demonstrated to be safe and effective, in an effort to allay fears that development of the shot might be politically tainted.

In May, the president announced “Operation Warp Speed,” a project to accelerate vaccine development and deliver 300 million doses by year’s end. The government has selected eight vaccine candidates for the program, beginning manufacturing of the shots even while they remain in clinical trials with the expectation that one or more will work.

Top government health officials including Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, have said a vaccine may be available as soon as mid-2021.

Globally, more than 30 million have been infected by the coronavirus, which the World Health Organization declared a pandemic on March 11, 2020.

»CDC recommends trick-or-treaters stay at home this Halloween

The U.S. leads the world in the number of cases — more than 6.9 million — and deaths. However, while India’s number of confirmed cases is less than the U.S., health officials expect the world’s second most-populous nation to soon overtake the U.S. in that category.