CDC director: Winter could be ‘most difficult time in the public health history of this nation’

In a surprisingly candid appearance with the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, CDC Director Robert Redfield warned that the country is facing a potentially devastating winter unless a large percentage of Americans change their behavior.

The U.S. could see another 200,000 coronavirus deaths in the next three months if people don’t take mitigation measures such as mask-wearing and physical distancing seriously, Redfield said.

“The reality is December and January and February are going to be rough times. I actually believe they’re going to be the most difficult time in the public health history of this nation,” largely because of the stress to the health system.

“I do think, unfortunately, before we see February, we could be close to 450,000 Americans dead from this virus,” Redfield said.

The path forward: Redfield made a point to say the country is not defenseless, and the death toll is not a “fait accompli.” But people need to do the bare minimum of wearing a mask, maintaining physical distance, and avoiding crowds, especially indoors.

“The truth is, mitigation works,” Redfield said. “The challenge with this virus is, it’s not going to work if half of us do what we need to do. It’s not even going to work, probably if three quarters of us do what we need to do. This virus really is going to require all of us to really be vigilant.”

Parting swipe at Trump? Redfield said one of his main disappointments from his time as CDC director is the lack of a consistent message about the benefits of wearing a mask. He criticized that fact that it’s been turned into a political statement, but never directly acknowledged that President Trump and others in the administration played a major part in that.

“When you really want to get everybody on board, you’ve got to have clear, unified, reinforced messaging,” Redfield said. “The fact that we were still arguing in the summer about whether masks work,’’ he said, “was a problem.”