The COVID-19 death toll in the US could reach 500,000 by mid-February, the incoming CDC director warned

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The COVID-19 death toll in the US could reach 500,000 by mid-February, the incoming CDC director warned
President-elect Joe Biden has nominated Dr. Rochelle Walensky to head up the CDC.Jim Watson/AFP via Getty Images
  • The US' COVID-19 death toll will jump by 100,000 in the coming four weeks, the next head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned.
  • As of Sunday, the CDC had recorded 394,495 COVID-19 deaths. That will reach 500,000 by mid-February, Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CBS.
  • "I think we still have some dark weeks ahead," Walensky, President-elect Joe Biden's pick to lead the CDC, said.

By the middle of February, half a million Americans will have died of COVID-19, President-elect Joe Biden's pick to lead the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has predicted.

This would be a jump of more than 100,000 in a month.

"By the middle of February, we expect half a million deaths in this country," Dr. Rochelle Walensky told CBS' "Face the Nation" on Sunday.

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As of Sunday afternoon, the CDC had recorded 394,495 deaths from COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic. This included 3,557 added on Sunday.

Read more: 5 public health experts explain what the US needs to do to get COVID-19 under control as Biden prepares to roll out his plan

The US hadn't yet seen the full effects of holiday travel, Walensky added. This would bring higher rates of hospitalizations and deaths, she said.

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"I think we still have some dark weeks ahead," she said.

Ron Klain, Biden's incoming chief of staff, made similar comments on CNN that same day. He expected the US COVID-19 death toll to reach 500,000 "some time in the month of February," he said.

Their comments came as the US faces growing cases of mutant virus variants. The CDC has so far identified 88 cases of B.1.1.7, the most widespread of the variants that scientists think are more infectious, with more than half of the confirmed cases being in California.

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Experts believe the variant, first identified in the UK, has been circulating in the US for several weeks.

When asked why the US didn't have better surveillance for monitoring these variants, Walensky said it was down to a lack of public health infrastructure.

"We didn't have one at baseline and we certainly don't have one now during a pandemic," she told CBS.

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Despite this, Biden's team was "confident" it would have enough doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to achieve its goal of administering 100 million doses in Biden's first 100 days in office, Walensky said.

"It will be a hefty lift, but we have it in us to do that," she said, adding there had been "bottlenecks" in the distribution so far.

Biden's administration has already outlined its plans for ramping up vaccine distribution. It intends to invest $20 billion in a national vaccination program that would launch community vaccination centers and deploy mobile vaccination units in hard-to-reach areas.

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On Friday, a Biden transition spokesperson confirmed that Dr. David Kessler, a former Food and Drug Administration (FDA) commissioner, will replace Dr. Moncef Slaoui as head of the White House's COVID-19 vaccination drive, called Operation Warp Speed.

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