On Saturday, Dr. Tom Frieden said during the conference “Coronavirus: Facts and Fears” on CNN, that the estimate is based on the number of infections “that have actually occurred.”
“Anytime we ignore, downgrade or underestimate it, we do so at our own risk and the risks of the people whose lives depend on us,” Frieden said.
By February, the death toll from the Coronavirus in the United States could double to about 400,000, a model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The model predicted that daily deaths would peak at around 23,000 in mid-January.
Dr Richard Beiser, another former CDC director, said expectations are not static, and what the public is doing can have a huge impact.
He said that following guidelines such as wearing masks, social distancing, washing hands and investigating cases means “we can have a very different path and we can control this.”
The effects could be much greater than officials think
Officials are tracking infections and deaths from the coronavirus, but Frieden said those numbers could be very small.
Frieden said on Saturday that the true number of coronavirus deaths in the United States is over a quarter of a million people.
Part of the problem in determining the true impact is how to include deaths on death certificates, especially for older patients who are at greater risk of other health problems besides coronavirus infection. Often another health condition is listed as the cause of death, he said.
“If you die of cancer, and you also have diabetes, you can still die of cancer,” Frieden said. “If you die from Covid, and you also have diabetes, you die from Covid.”
He said that the number of infections is likely to approach 40 million.
“You may not get sick at all from this, but you may spread it to someone who dies then, or spread it to someone else who dies,” he said. “This is why we all need to realize that we are in this together. There is only one enemy, and that is the virus.”
Restore confidence in vaccines and health agencies
As researchers race to develop a vaccine for the Coronavirus, health experts said on Saturday that improving confidence and accessibility around any potential vaccine is essential.
“For a vaccine to actually succeed, it not only has to be safe and effective, but it also has to be available and reliable. That is why it is so important that it not be politicized and not be considered by any political party or political figure,” Frieden said. “It’s a big job to get vaccinated there.”
Polls show the public does not trust the CDC with information about the coronavirus.
Dr. Julie Gerberding said during City Hall that the way to restore confidence “depends first and foremost on telling the truth, even when it is difficult.”
“Americans can tolerate really hard facts, but they have to come from reliable and credible sources,” Gerberding said. “One of the reasons for our great concern among Americans is that they hear different things from different political leaders. We have not standardized and sequenced messages from reliable sources.”
She repeated what the other former CDC leaders had said during City Hall: Transparency is the key.
“It would be very difficult to creep back into a situation where people think we really have their best interest in the heart. The good news is that science is in our favor,” she said.
A wake-up call for politicians and public health officials
Former CDC directors have warned that both politicians and public health officials need to take the virus seriously in the public’s interest.
President Donald Trump said Americans should not let fear of the Coronavirus dominate their lives, but former director Dr. Geoffrey Coplan said the country should fear “absolutely”.
And Coblan said: “When your leadership works against you in this virus, the virus has an ally that makes it a very strong competitor for more destruction.”
Coplan said he believed this pandemic would be a wake-up call for politicians and public health officials.
“I very much hope we see stronger local and local health departments, working with a stronger CDC – that there will be particularly greater attention to a modernized surveillance system, early detection of problems, and then an approach to improving,” he said.
Lauren Mascarenhas, Andrea Kane, Lianna Falk, Shelby Lynn Erdman, Nicole Chavez and Christina Maxores contributed to this report.