CDC: U.S. COVID death toll to be more than 500K by mid-February

The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is estimating the U.S. coronavirus death toll to rise to more than 500,000 by the middle of February.

On Wednesday, the CDC’s national forecast predicted 17,000 to 29,300 new deaths will likely be reported in the week ending Feb. 13. The national ensemble predicts between 465,000 to 508,000 COVID-19 deaths will have been reported by then.

According to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, the U.S. continues to lead the world in overall cases — 24.4 million — and deaths, with more than 406,000.

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The CDC said its ensemble forecasts combine several independent forecasts into a single, overall nationally focused projection over four weeks. This week, the CDC said it received forecasts of COVID-19 deaths over the month from 37 groups that were included in its national forecast.

The U.S. is averaging about 201,000 new cases and about 3,000 deaths each day. Only hours before Joe Biden’s presidential inauguration, the nation surpassed 400,000 coronavirus deaths.

As the U.S. enters “what may well be the toughest and deadliest period of the virus,” Biden is putting forth a national COVID-19 strategy to ramp up vaccinations and testing, reopen schools and businesses and increase the use of masks, including a requirement that they be worn for travel.

The administration is also depending on Congress to provide $1.9 trillion for economic relief and COVID-19 response.

Biden announces members of COVID-19 task force

Biden’s top medical adviser on COVID-19, Dr. Anthony Fauci, also announced renewed U.S. support for the World Health Organization after it faced blistering criticism from the Trump administration, laying out new commitments to tackle the coronavirus and other global health issues. Fauci said early Thursday the U.S. will join the U.N. health agency’s efforts to bring vaccines, therapeutics and diagnostics to people in need, whether in rich or poor countries and will resume full funding and staffing support for WHO.

Biden also is seeking to expand testing and vaccine availability, with the goal of 100 million shots in his first 100 days in office.

The Democratic president has directed the Federal Emergency Management Agency to begin setting up vaccination centers, aiming to have 100 up and running in a month. He’s ordering the CDC to begin a program to make vaccines available through local pharmacies starting next month. And he’s mobilizing the Public Health Service to deploy to assist localities in vaccinations.

Biden has set a goal of having most K-8 schools reopen in his first 100 days, and he’s ordering the departments of Education and Health and Human Services to provide clear guidance for reopening schools safely.

On Wednesday, the CDC also said about half of the 31 million doses distributed to the states by the federal government have been administered so far. Only about 2 million people have received the two doses needed for maximum protection against the virus.

Dr. Rochelle Walensky, 51, an infectious diseases specialist at Harvard Medical School and Massachusetts General Hospital, is expected to become CDC director this week.

She will succeed Dr. Robert Redfield, 69, who came to the CDC with a similar resume as an outsider from academia. Redfield kept a low profile during his first two years in office after being appointed by the Trump administration in 2018.

Walensky has said one of her top priorities will be to improve the CDC’s communications with the public to rebuild trust. Inside the agency, she wants to raise morale, in large part by restoring the primacy of science and setting politics to the side.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.