CDC director warns of 'worst fall' in history if people don't follow COVID-19 guidelines

If Americans don't follow coronavirus prevention measures such as wearing masks and social distancing, the country could be in for its "worst fall" in history, the head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned Thursday.

During an interview with WebMD, CDC Director Robert Redfield said a virus surge, along with the upcoming flu season, could create the “worst fall” that “we’ve ever had."

Colder weather in the fall will likely drive more people indoors, where health experts say COVID-19 spreads more easily. 

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Coinciding flu and COVID-19 outbreaks could overwhelm hospitals and drain resources, threatening lives and the response to the pandemic. 

Redfield said the CDC is urging people to get a flu shot, and the agency has purchased an extra 10 million doses of the vaccine — compared with the typical 500,000 — to make sure states have enough to cover uninsured adults.

"I'm trying to tell the American public, please don't leave this important accomplishment of American medicine on the shelf," Redfield said. 

"We're going to have COVID in the fall, we're going to have flu in the fall," he added, saying if people get vaccinated against the flu, they could potentially be freeing up a hospital bed for someone infected with COVID-19.

Redfield said conditions will depend on whether people follow the guidelines: wearing face masks, staying six feet away from others, washing hands often with soap and warm water and avoiding large crowds, especially indoors.

“I’m not asking some of America to do it — we all have to do it,” he said. 

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More than 5 million people have been infected with COVID-19 in the U.S., and more than 165,000 have died. On Wednesday alone there were 1,499 deaths, the deadliest day since May

Earlier this summer, states rushed to reopen large swaths of businesses even though the virus was not under control. People have grown tired of staying inside, in some cases to the point of ignoring basic prevention guidelines. 

Wearing masks has become a political issue, and some states and counties have actively prohibited local leaders from mandating them in public spaces. At the same time, the Trump administration and multiple state leaders are pressuring schools to reopen in areas where the virus is still surging.