By Carolyn Crist
The COVID-19 death toll in the U.S. surpassed 350,000 on Sunday morning, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. also logged nearly 300,000 new cases and reached 20.4 million total coronavirus cases on Sunday, just two days after passing the milestone of 20 million cases.
Public health officials continue to voice concerns that holiday travel and indoor gatherings will add to the growing numbers in coming weeks as the vaccine distribution process slowly rolls out across the country.
“To have 300,000 cases in a given day and between 2,000 and 3,000 deaths a day is just terrible,” Anthony Fauci, MD, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on ABC's “This Week.”
“There's no running away from the numbers,” he added. “It's something that we've absolutely got to grasp and get our arms around and turn that inflection down by very intensive adherence to the public health measures, uniformly, throughout the country, with no exception.”
Minutes before Fauci appeared on the show, President Donald Trump wrote in a Twitter post that CDC numbers for COVID-19 cases and deaths were “far exaggerated.” Fauci pushed back during two Sunday talk show appearances.
“The numbers are real,” Fauci said on NBC's “Meet the Press.” “All you need to do is to go into the trenches, go into the hospitals, go into the intensive care units and see what is happening. Those are real numbers, real people and real deaths.”
December marked the toughest month of the pandemic so far. More than 6.4 million people contracted the virus and 77,000 people died, according to an NBC News analysis. Fauci said the pandemic will likely grow worse in the next few weeks as people test positive following holiday travel and indoor gatherings.
“Rather than sit back and throw up our hands and say, 'Oh my goodness, it's getting worse,' we need to double down on some of the fundamental things that we talk about all the time” such as social distancing, wearing face masks and avoiding crowds, Fauci said on “Meet the Press.”
Vaccines offer a “glimmer of hope,” but the distribution process is “not where we want to be,” Fauci added. More than 13 million doses have been distributed and 4.2 million had been administered as of Saturday morning, according to the CDC. The update added about 1.5 million administered doses in 72 hours, or an average of 500,000 per day. If the U.S. can reach more than 1 million per day, Fauci said he could see a decline in the pandemic by the fall.
“It is totally going to depend on the uptake of vaccines,” Fauci said on “This Week.” “If from April, May, June, July and August, we do the kind of vaccine implementation that I'm talking about — at least 1 million people a day and maybe more — by the time we end the summer and get to the fall, we will have achieved that level of herd immunity that I think will get us back to some form of normality.”
President-elect Joe Biden has pledged for 100 million people to be vaccinated in his first 100 days in office. Fauci said Sunday that he still thinks the goal is realistic.
“We can do 1 million people per day,” he said. “We've done massive vaccination programs in our history. There's no reason why we can't do it right now.”