Dr. Deborah Birx warned on Sunday that the escalating coronavirus surge is likely to be the toughest event in U.S. history as hospital systems across the country strain to tackle the rising daily death toll.
"This is not just the worst public health event. This is the worst event this country will face not just public health," said Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator, during a masked appearance at NBC's "Meet the Press."
Birx's comments complement a chorus of public health officials expressing concerns about the growing wave of infections.
On Wednesday, the director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention Dr. Robert Redfield said the months ahead will be "the most difficult time in this country's public health history."
"This fall / winter tide combines everything we saw in spring with everything we saw in summer – plus the fall tide that turns into winter tide. I think that is why Dr. Redfield addressed the American people so absolutely . " Said Birx.
The Covid-19 pandemic is killing record numbers of Americans every day, and the numbers are expected to deteriorate due to gatherings for Thanksgiving Day.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University, more than 2,000 people die from Covid-19 every day in the United States. More than 2,800 deaths from the disease were recorded on Thursday, a new high.
Birx urged Americans to change their behavior before the winter vacation. At that point, despite her terrible warning, she said, "We know what behaviors are spreading the virus and how we can change those behaviors."
"We cannot go into Christmas season, Christmas, Hanukkah, Kwanza, with the same attitude that these meetings do not apply to me," said Birx. "They apply to everyone."
"If you don't want to lose your grandparents, your aunts, let's be clear: if you are over 70, 20 percent of those over 70 who get Covid will be hospitalized, and yet 10 percent will go lost them, "added Birx.
"So if you have someone in your family who has comorbidities or is over 70, you can't do these things. You can't gather without a mask, you can't hug and kiss people outside," she said.
Birx recognized the existence of a number of vaccines that have shown promising results in clinical trials. But she said these won't be available until February for the most vulnerable Americans.
"So we have to do this now. Yes, the nursing homes are vaccinated, but there are 100 million Americans who have these comorbidities that put them at significant risk," Birx said, referring to underlying medical conditions that can make people more vulnerable to the virus.
Minister of Health and Human Services Alex Azar said on ABC's This Week Sunday that "more general vaccinations" might be available in February or March and that there would be enough vaccines for every American who did by the second quarter looking for one.
The frustration and alarm from a senior member of the White House's efforts to fight the virus contrast with the relative silence of the President himself.
President Donald Trump, who will step down next month, has avoided mentioning the death toll from the disease. Instead, he has focused on personal grievances since losing the November election to President-elect Joe Biden.
Biden's team began formally coordinating with the current administration's Covid-19 response officials last week after a delay caused by White House efforts to delay the formal transition.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the longtime director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, said Thursday that he had agreed to serve as Biden's chief physician. He should inform Biden's team on the same day.