WASHINGTON — The nation’s top infectious disease expert gave a chilling warning Tuesday that the U.S. coronavirus death toll could nearly double in the coming months.
“The models tell us if we don't do what we need to in the fall and winter, we could have 300,000 to 400,000 COVID-19 deaths," Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease, said during a virtual event for American University.
As of Wednesday afternoon, more than 211,000 Americans have died from COVID-19.
Fauci has spent the last several weeks warning that Americans should brace for a tough fall and winter as social distancing restrictions are eased and colder weather forces people indoors more.
He said a coronavirus vaccine will likely not be available to most Americans until next summer or even the fall. President Donald Trump has been promising one before the end of the year, even suggesting it could be available by Election Day on Nov. 3. The president’s goal seems even more unlikely to be met now that the Food and Drug Administration has imposed tougher safety guidelines on vaccine makers.
Fauci was also asked about the COVID-19 outbreak at the White House, which has included Trump, first lady Melania Trump, aides and senators. The doctor said the rash of infections could have been prevented if more precautions had been taken.
"That is a reality right there,” Fauci said. “And every day that goes by more people are popping up that are infected. It's not a hoax. It's an unfortunate situation when you see something like that.”
Fauci compared the government’s efforts to combat the coronavirus with the Ebola outbreak of 2014 and Zika virus epidemic of 2015. He said his work is being made more difficult by the politicization of COVID-19.
“We always knew that the enemy was the virus,” he said. “It wasn't the person who disagreed with you. The difference now is that people are forgetting that the common enemy is the virus. It's not my opinion versus somebody else's opinion because when you make things like public health measures an oppositional position, you've essentially lost the game.”
The doctor acknowledged that he faces a trust problem with some Americans, especially among Republicans.
"Maybe 50% of you hate me because you think I'm trying to destroy the country, but listen to me for six weeks or so and do what I say, and you'll see the numbers go down," Fauci pleaded.