US coronavirus deaths are projected to reach 567,000 by April, even amid vaccine rollout

The latest projection from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation notes that number could explode further to 731,000 by April 1 if states ease mandates aimed at containing the novel coronavirus.

But we could save tens of thousands of lives. More than 33,000 lives could be saved by the projected vaccine rollout, the IHME said, and 45,000 could be saved if the rollout were more rapid.

Across the country, the use of masks has increased to 74%, the IHME said, and if it were to expand even further to 95%, there could be 49,000 fewer deaths by April 1.

The latest IHME model comes as the US has put its hopes in the rollout of its recently authorized Covid-19 vaccines. Operation Warp Speed has distributed about 9.5 million doses and administered at least one million doses as of early Thursday, according to data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“With cases of Covid-19 continuing to surge nationwide, this achievement comes at a critical time and will help to protect those on the front lines — our health care providers treating COVID-19 patients — as well as our most vulnerable: elder individuals living in nursing homes and assisted living facilities,” CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said.

The vaccinations can’t come too soon for California, which became the first state to hit 2 million coronavirus cases late Wednesday — more than all but a handful of countries — less than six weeks after the state hit 1 million cases on November 12. Given the state’s population of 39.5 million, about one out of every 20 people in California has tested positive for the virus.

The state’s 7-day positivity rate now stands at 12.6%, a slight decrease from previous weeks. However, 55 of California’s 58 counties remain in the most restrictive purple tier of the state’s Covid-19 reopening system, which have resulted in the closure of many nonessential indoor business operations.

Gov. Gavin Newsom has attributed the recent surge in cases to people relaxing their physical distancing efforts and gathering with people outside of their households, especially during the holidays.

A total of 23,558 Californians have died of complications from the disease since the start of the pandemic.

‘We have an end in sight’

In all, the US reported 228,131 new cases of the coronavirus and 3,359 new deaths on Wednesday, the third-most deaths in a single day. That is a devastating “normal” for the US, which has averaged about 215,000 new cases and over 2,700 new deaths every day over the past week.

Dr. Andrew Pastewski, the ICU medical director at Jackson South Medical Center in Miami, attributed the surge in cases at his hospital to Thanksgiving.

“And with the upcoming holidays, we are very scared about what we’re about to see,” he told CNN’s Erica Hill.

But with the vaccine, “we have an end in sight,” Pastewski said.

The government has said it intends to distribute 20 million first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna vaccines in the coming weeks, slightly later than it had originally planned.

“It’s been a big week of delivery of vaccines,” Gen. Gustave Perna, chief operating officer of Operation Warp Speed, told reporters Wednesday. “Over 7,800 deliveries by the end of tomorrow, as we are delivering the 7.9 million doses of vaccine that were allocated for this week around the country — really a tremendous feat.”

Perna said about 15.5 million doses of vaccine have been allocated and another 4.5 to 5 million will be allotted next week.

“We’ll finish those deliveries in the first week of January,” he said.

In addition, health care workers have found that the Pfizer vaccine, a frozen solution that is diluted with saline before it is given to people, can yield more than the initially thought five doses.

US officials promised 20 million vaccinated against coronavirus by the end of the year. It's going slower than that

As such, Perna said that the ancillary kits shipped along with the vaccine are being adjusted with extra supplies to accommodate a possible sixth dose.

“We have adjusted our contract and our construction of the kits to … provide even more capability as we go forward,” Perna said Wednesday.

He noted that the kits already had a bit of “extra capability” built in, and that right now most of the administration of the vaccine is occurring in hospitals “where they have access to syringes and needles accordingly.”

“So, feel very comfortable with the availability of syringes and needles and our ability to put these kits together and continue the simultaneous distribution of the kits with the vaccine,” he said.

CNN’s Alexandra Meeks, Andrea Kane, Holly Yan and Steve Almasy contributed to this report.

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