CDC director: US COVID-19 deaths likely to exceed 9/11 toll for 60 days

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield issued a stark warning about the worsening death toll from the coronavirus on Thursday, saying that in a coming brutal stretch of time the country is likely to see more deaths from the virus each day than from the Sept. 11 attacks or Pearl Harbor. 

“We are in the timeframe 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,” Redfield said during an event hosted by the Council on Foreign Relations. 

The U.S. on Wednesday set a new record for single-day deaths from coronavirus, with 3,054.

That total is more than the roughly 2,900 people who died on 9/11 or the roughly 2,400 who died in the Pearl Harbor attack at the start of World War II. 

Redfield said Thursday he expects the death toll from those attacks to continue to be exceeded for weeks, a staggering loss of life. 

The spread of the virus is now at more than 200,000 new cases every day in the United States, the worst it has ever been. 

While there is hope down the line from a coming vaccine, the first of which, from Pfizer, is likely to be authorized within days, vaccines will not be widely available for months, likely sometime in the spring. That means there is still a brutal stretch ahead. 

“The reality is the vaccine approval this week’s not going to really impact that I think to any degree for the next 60 days,” Redfield said of the virus’s toll.

Eventually, as more people become vaccinated, the spread of the virus is likely to slow to some degree, before at some point slowing more drastically once the country reaches the herd immunity threshold. 

But Redfield, echoing a wide range of health experts, urged people to “double down” on basic precautions in the short term until a vaccine is widely available.

Those precautions include wearing a mask and avoiding indoor gatherings, including even small gatherings with a few different households, which Redfield said are a significant source of spread. 

Asked what he has done to encourage political leaders to emphasize the importance of masks, Redfield said he has consistently brought up the importance of masks at White House task force meetings. 

“Where I think we could have done better as a nation is actually had more consistency in messaging, among all the American public, not just our political leaders, not just our governors, but all the public [around masks],” he added. He did not mention President Trump, who has repeatedly mocked the use of masks and rarely worn one himself. 

“It’s very disappointing when I have governors who basically feel that masks don’t work,” Redfield said. 

As for why the U.S. has such a high proportion of cases and deaths compared to the rest of the world, Redfield pointed to high rates of comorbidities like obesity and diabetes in the U.S. population, as well as culture. 

“Different cultures have embraced public health recommendations with different degrees of rigor,” he said.