The United States could see more people die from the novel coronavirus per day than in the September 11 terrorist attacks for the next two to three months, a top health official warned Thursday about the dark winter likely ahead for the country hardest hit by the pandemic.
“We are in the time frame now that, probably for the next 60 to 90 days, we’re going to have more deaths per day than we had at 9/11 or we had at Pearl Harbor,” U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Robert Redfield told an event hosted by the Council of Foreign Relations, according to accounts from CNN and the Washington Post.
Just over 2,400 Americans died in the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor during the Second World War. A total of 2,977 people were killed in New York City, Washington D.C. and outside of Shanksville, Penn., on Sept. 11, 2001.
On Wednesday, 3,124 people died from COVID-19 in the U.S., according to Johns Hopkins University, far eclipsing the death tolls from those attacks. It was the deadliest day yet in the pandemic, far outpacing the first wave of deaths in the spring.
Thursday also saw more than 3,000 new deaths, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
The past week has seen the seven-day average in daily deaths surpass 2,000, also surpassing the deadly spring wave.
The staggering rise in deaths comes as the number of hospitalizations from the virus is setting records nearly every day, reaching 107,000 on Thursday. New cases per day are running at all-time highs of over 209,000 on average.
All told, the crisis has left more than 292,000 people dead across the U.S., with more than 15.6 million confirmed infections.
The crisis across the country is pushing medical centres to the breaking point and leaving staff members and public health officials burned out.
Redfield has been blunt before about the months to come, telling a livestream presentation hosted by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce Foundation last weekend that the country faced “rough times” from now through February.
“I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” he said then.
The federal government is putting nearly all of its focus on the imminent arrival of a vaccine. A U.S. Food and Drug Administration advisory panel on Thursday recommended the emergency approval of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, which has already been approved in the United Kingdom and Canada.
The FDA is expected to issue that final approval within the coming days, with inoculations to high-risk and priority groups set to follow before the end of the year.
But officials are warning Americans to continue to follow public health guidelines like wearing masks and social distancing to slow the spread until mass inoculations are possible, which Redfield and others have warned won’t be possible until at least the second quarter of 2021.
Experts have said at least 70 per cent of the population should be vaccinated before “herd immunity” is achieved, and the risk of community spread of the virus is reduced.
–With files from Reuters
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