Health experts warn COVID-19 American death toll could pass half-million in weeks

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PHILADELPHIA (KYW Newsradio) -- The new head of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is projecting the COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. could possibly fly past 500,000 in about three weeks.

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky, at the first news briefing with the White House COVID-19 Response Team on Wednesday, cited the agency’s latest ensemble forecast and said if the country continued on the same path, the death toll would be between 479,000 and 514,000 by Feb. 20.

“I know this is not news we all want to hear but this is something we must say so we are all aware,” Walensky said.

Johns Hopkins University’s latest data as of Thursday morning listed 429,195 U.S. deaths. That would mean there could be close to 85,000 more deaths in under a month.

Part of what’s concerning is the coronavirus variant first identified in the U.K., a more contagious strain that has been detected in 28 states. Officials say the vaccine seems to still be effective against the strain.

“What we’re seeing is a very slight, if at all, impact on vaccine induced antibodies and very little impact on anything else. So, we are covered with that,” said White House chief medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Vaccine rollout, however, has been slow. According to Bloomberg’s vaccine tracker, as of Wednesday evening, 6.5% of the U.S. population has been given at least one dose.

As the vast majority of Americans wait to be vaccinated, and with concerns about the U.K. variant spreading; officials stress safety measures we’ve become accustomed to: mask wearing, distancing, hand washing and avoiding large gatherings.