CDC director Dr. Robert Redfield testifies during a U.S. Senate Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions hearing to investigate Covid-19, with a focus on an update of the federal response in Washington, DC, on September 23, 2020.
Alex Edelman | AFP | Getty Images
The next few months of the Covid-19 pandemic will be among "the most difficult in the history of this country's public health," said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, on Wednesday.
Redfield said at a US Chamber of Commerce event that about 90% of hospitals in the country are in "hot zones and red zones." He added that 90% of long-term care facilities are in high-penetration areas.
"We are now at a very critical time to keep our health system resilient," said Redfield. "The reality is that December, January and February are going to be difficult times. I actually believe they will be the most difficult times in this nation's public health history, largely because of the stress that will put our health care system under pressure. "
Redfield added that Covid-19 deaths are already on the rise. He said the country is now in the range of reporting between 1,500 and 2,500 Covid-19 deaths daily.
"The mortality concerns are real," he said. "And unfortunately, I think before we see February we could be nearly 450,000 Americans who died from this virus."
However, Redfield noted that the country has the tools in place to mitigate the severity of the outbreak. He advocated the strategic closure of certain parts of society, such as the B. Bars and restaurants indoors. He said he was "disappointed" when New York City temporarily closed all public schools last month, adding that schools don't appear to be promoting the spread of the virus.
He also pointed to university and college campuses, where he said outbreaks had been largely avoided in many locations through the strategic use of surveillance testing combined with infection prevention measures such as wearing masks.
"I used to think that the toughest group we had to help contain this was basically college students," he said. "But what happened in the summer and fall is that many of the colleges and universities really moved on to developing comprehensive mitigation measures."
One factor that makes this virus so dangerous, Redfield said, is that it mostly spreads through people who have no symptoms or that spreads before patients develop symptoms. That makes it difficult to control what he called "the silent epidemic" without fully testing the entire population, including people with no symptoms who may have been exposed to the virus. The CDC is working on guidelines for institutions and workplaces to help them use testing strategically, he said.
Another bright spot, Redfield said, is that promising vaccines are on the way, but mitigation measures are needed well into next year. He predicted the country could not hold large gatherings again until the fall of 2021.
Many lessons can be learned from the pandemic, Redfield said, adding, "I was unwilling to understand how little has been invested in core public health skills."
He said insufficient investment has been made in public health laboratories across the country, which perform many diagnostic tests, and in digitizing public health records, which is hindering the federal government's response to the pandemic.
"There is a huge lack of investment and I hope this pandemic will change," he said. Redfield estimated that the health crisis cost the United States at least $ 8 trillion.
"Probably one of our biggest victims of the pandemic this year has been the impact on business and only universal health care, the impact on our children's education."