The nation's leading expert on infectious diseases and member of the White House's coronavirus task force says the pandemic could kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans and infect millions.
Dr. Anthony Fauci said based on modeling of the current pace of the coronavirus' spread in the U.S., "between 100,000 and 200,000" people may die from COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
Fauci's comments on CNN's State of the Union underscore just how far away the U.S. is from the peak of the outbreak based on predictions from top federal officials. As of early Sunday afternoon, there were 125,000 cases in the U.S. and nearly 2,200 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Public health experts say that because of undocumented chains of transmission in many parts of the country, the number of new coronavirus cases in the U.S. is set to keep surging as more and more test results become known.
Fauci said the 100,000-to-200,000 death figure is a middle-of-the-road estimate, much lower than worse-case-scenario predictions.
He said preparing for 1 million to 2 million Americans to die from the coronavirus is "almost certainly off the chart," adding: "Now it's not impossible, but very, very unlikely."
However, Fauci cautioned people not to put too much emphasis on predictions, noting that "it's such a moving target that you could so easily be wrong and mislead people."
What we do know, he says, is that "we've got a serious problem in New York, we've got a serious problem in New Orleans and we're going to have serious problems in other areas."
Fauci's coronavirus fatality estimate comes as the White House considers ways to reopen the economy, including easing social distancing guidelines that officials have set forth to curb the spread of the fast-moving virus.
One in three Americans is now being asked to stay indoors as new cases soar, especially in New York, which accounts for nearly half of the country's cases.
When asked if it is the right time to begin relaxing some of the social distancing measures, Fauci said not until the curve of new infections starts flattening out.
He refused to guess when exactly that may occur.
"The virus itself determines that timetable," Fauci said.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the seasonal flu has killed between 12,000 and 61,000 people a year since 2010. The coronavirus death rate is far greater than the flu's. For the elderly population, the coronavirus has been found to be six times as deadly.
There is currently no vaccine for the coronavirus. Experts say developing a vaccine for the virus could take at least a year.