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Biden official expects virus deaths to reach 500,000 in February

Ron Klain, Biden's incoming chief of staff, predicts

Ron Klain, Biden's incoming chief of staff, predicts a surge in coronavirus deaths through March.   Credit: Bloomberg/Andrew Harrer

The administration of President-elect Joe Biden is bracing for a bleak first few months in office, with the U.S. likely to see the death toll surge through March, the incoming White House chief of staff said Sunday.

Ron Klain, speaking on CNN's "State of the Union," said Sunday the U.S. aims to have vaccinated 100 million Americans during the first 100 days of Biden's presidency. The administration will call on all Americans to abide by a 100-day masking challenge.

"The virus is going to get worse before it gets better. I certainly expect we will hit 500,000 deaths sometime in the month of February. People who are contracting the virus today will start to get sick next month and will add to the death toll in late February, even March. So, it's going to take a while to turn this around," Klain said. "The virus is the virus. What we can do is act to control it. And that means getting these vaccinations moving. It means getting help to state and local governments to help reopen schools safely, to give people the protective gear they need, and to really ramp up testing. We have laid out our plans to do this."

The current coronavirus death toll in the U.S. is nearing 400,000.

The goal of vaccinating 100 million people in the first 100 days of his administration is achievable, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on NBC's "Meet the Press" Sunday.

"I can tell you one thing that's clear is that — the issue of getting 100 million doses in the first 100 days, is absolutely a doable thing," said Fauci, who will become chief medical adviser to Biden after Wednesday's inauguration.

Fauci noted that Biden would assert the Defense Production Act to help expand the supply of available vaccines. The federal government, under President Donald Trump, has been criticized for a slow, leave-it-to-the-states approach.

"What the president-elect is going to do is where it need be, to invoke the DPA to get the kinds of things we need, whatever they may be, be they tests, be they vaccines or what have you. In other words, to just not be hesitant to use whatever mechanisms we can to get everything on track and in the flow that he predicts," Fauci said.

Fauci also said the U.S. was "weeks," not "months," away from seeing federal approval of new vaccines from manufacturers Johnson & Johnson and AstraZeneca.

Currently, the FDA has given approval to vaccines from Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech.

"They're going to have to get their data and safety monitoring board to look at it to see if it is appropriate to start, you know, essentially putting the package together to get an emergency use authorization."

Also Sunday, Fauci said U.S. health officials are furiously reviewing mutations of the coronavirus that have sprung up across the globe.

In addition to the British variation that officials there call extremely contagious, a "more ominous one" is spreading in South Africa and Brazil.

"We've got to be careful because the more cases you get, even though on a one-to-one basis it's not more virulent, meaning it doesn't make you more sick or more likely to die, just by numbers alone the more cases you have, the more hospitalizations you're going to have. And the more hospitalizations you have, the more deaths you're going to have. The thing we really want to look at carefully is that does that mutation lessen the impact of the vaccine? And if it does then we're going to have to make some modifications. But we're all over that. We're looking at that really very carefully."

Also Sunday, New York Sens. Chuck Schumer and Kirsten Gillibrand, both Democrats, praised the $1.9 trillion pandemic relief plan Biden proposed Thursday, saying it would bring more than $50 billion in aid to New York.

"We need the help — maybe more than any other state," Schumer said at a news conference with Gillibrand in Manhattan.

Schumer spokesman Angelo Roefaro estimated the bill would bring at least tens of millions of dollars to local governments on Long Island.

With Jesse Coburn

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