Coronavirus: Former CDC head warns US ‘just at the beginning’ and says death toll will reach 100,000 by the end of May

The former head of the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) warned US lawmakers on Wednesday to brace for a “long and difficult” war against the coronavirus.

Dr Tom Frieden, who ran the agency during the Obama administration, said that without a substantial improvement in the national response to the pandemic, the country is on track to top 100,000 deaths by the end of May.

“Until we have an effective vaccine, unless something unexpected happens, our viral enemy will be with us for many months or years,” Dr Frieden told a House panel, in the first congressional hearing addressing the federal response to the pandemic.

“As bad as this has been so far, we’re just at the beginning,” he added.

Dr Frieden spearheaded the US response to the 2014 Ebola outbreak and now heads a global health initiative called Resolve to Save Lives.

“The bottom line is that our war against Covid-19 will be long and difficult,” he said.

Dr Frieden acknowledged that Americans are eager to get back to normal, with states and businesses reopening, but called for caution.

He said more funding was needed to expand coronavirus testing, increase contact tracing, and boost public health capacity.

“Without sustained support, our health will be avoidably at risk,” he said.

The nation’s top infectious disease specialist Dr Anthony Fauci is set to testify before the Senate next week, but was barred from appearing before the Democratic-led House by President Donald Trump, who has admitted the move was political.

However, Republican representative Tom Cole of Oklahoma, who sits on the committee at which Dr Frieden testified, said that he disagrees and believes that Dr Fauci should appear before the House to provide expert advice to legislators.

Congress is in the process of negotiating the next phase of federal coronavirus support, having already approved $3trn to counter both the health crisis and economic impacts of the pandemic.

To date, the US has 1.2 million confirmed coronavirus infections and has recorded more than 71,000 deaths.