The U.S. surpassed 150,000 deaths from the coronavirus on Wednesday, as the country’s death rate continued a steady climb that began in early July.
The crisis could get far worse in the coming months, billionaire philanthropist Bill Gates told Yahoo Finance Editor-in-Chief Andy Serwer in a recent interview, predicting that the fall could bring daily death tolls not seen since the height of the U.S. outbreak.
“Our peak death rate was well over 2,000 a day,” says Gates, co-founder of Microsoft and a leading backer of global public health initiatives. “But as we get into the fall and people are more indoors — if we haven't cut the infections going into that — we could get back up to that 2,000 a day.”
The sobering prediction comes as Gates works at the center of the global response, holding regular conversations with top infectious disease official Dr. Anthony Fauci and helping fund the development of treatments and vaccines
Gates, along with his wife Melinda, has donated more than $350 million to the fight against the coronavirus through the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.
As of Wednesday, coronavirus cases were increasing in 29 states, according to the New York Times. The U.S. has recorded an average of about 65,200 cases per day over the past week, which marks a 5% uptick from two weeks prior, the Times reports.
On Tuesday, President Donald Trump falsely stated that much of the U.S. is “corona-free” and defended his amplification of a viral video that made false claims about the pandemic.
During the deadliest period of the outbreak, in April, the U.S. saw a death rate roughly twice as high but far fewer infections, recording rolling averages around 30,000.
Gates pointed to the reduction in the risk of death from the virus as a sign of the progress that has already been made in treating severe cases. He pointed to increased medical knowledge and treatments like the anti-viral drug remdesivir, which shortens hospital stays for patients with the illness.
“The doctors have learned to use the ventilator less,” he says. “To use oxygen earlier.”
“The risk of death has gone down almost a factor of two because of these treatment understandings,” Gates says.
Gates, who serves as co-chair of the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, made the remarks in an episode of Yahoo Finance’s “Influencers with Andy Serwer,” a weekly interview series with leaders in business, politics, and entertainment.
Until 2000, Gates led personal computing giant Microsoft. That year, he and his wife co-founded their foundation, which now employs nearly 1,500 people and boasts an endowment of $46.8 billion.
The fall poses challenges, since the cold weather will likely ease transmission and limit opportunities for social distancing outdoors, Gates said.
“The fall — if we didn't have these new innovations coming in, or more people adhering to the face mask regulation... fall could be very tough,” he says.