The new head of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted Wednesday that the COVID-19 death toll in the United States would surpass 500,000 by February 20.
CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said during the new administration's first formal briefing on the crisis that within the next three weeks, the U.S. death toll could reach a point between 479,000 and 514,000.
President Joe Biden has promised to regularly deliver science-based facts to a public that is increasingly frustrated over the slow pace of the distribution of vaccines.
Walensky's prediction of coronavirs deaths came as White House COVID-19 czar Jeff Zients said the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services was working to make more health professionals available to administer vaccinations.
Zients said the government would authorize retired doctors and nurses to administer vaccines and that professionals licensed in one state would be able to administer doses in other states.
Zients also said Congress must approve Biden's COVID-19 relief bill to maintain momentum on vaccinations and more testing capacity. He said the administration was working to meet Biden's goal of delivering at least 100 million vaccine doses in 100 days.
Most of Biden's $1.9 trillion American Rescue Plan, which some Republican lawmakers complain is too costly, aims to help revive an economy severely weakened by the fallout from the pandemic.
Some $400 billion is for measures to contain the virus, including dramatically increasing the pace of vaccinations and building an infrastructure for more widespread testing.
The update was the first of three weekly briefings the new administration will have on the state of the pandemic, efforts to contain it, and efforts to deliver vaccines and other treatments to end it.
Wednesday's briefing also featured Zients' deputy, Andy Slavitt, infectious-disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci and COVID-19 equality task force chair Dr. Marcella Nunez-Smith.
"The White House respects and will follow the science, and the scientists will speak independently," Slavitt said.
As it has for months, the U.S. leads the world with nearly 25.5 million confirmed COVID-19 cases and more than 426,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center.