(CNN)The spread of new coronavirus variants that are more contagious threatens to add stress to an already overwhelmed health care system, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director Dr. Rochelle Walensky said Wednesday during the Biden administration’s first virtual Covid briefing.
“I also know that there are concerns about various viruses mutate, and we have always expected that variants would emerge, and we have been looking for them,” Walensky said.
“The variants that have been identified recently seem to spread more easily. They’re more transmissible, which can lead to increased number of cases, and increased stress on our already overtaxed system,” Walensky added.
The briefing got off to an unfortunate start on Wednesday with multiple technical difficulties. The administration has repeatedly touted their transparency amid the enormous undertaking of getting the pandemic under control, but the briefing, which was conducted virtually via Zoom, had multiple audiovisual issues.
As Covid-19 chief Jeff Zients began the call, his audio was intermittently audible.
Walensky also had issues with her line on mute.
“Rochelle? Rochelle?” someone off-camera asked.
Dr. Anthony Fauci spoke for nearly a full minute while on mute, at which point the audio came on and he was informed of the issue.
The briefing did include an updated US coronavirus death forecast from Walensky, who said the CDC’s ensemble forecast now projects there will be 479,000 to 514,000 deaths by February 20.
Unlike some individual models, the CDC’s ensemble forecast only offers projections a few weeks into the future. The previous ensemble forecast, published January 20, projected up to 508,000 coronavirus deaths by February 13.
At least 425,406 people have already died from Covid-19 in the United States, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.
This story is breaking and will be updated.
CNN’s Ben Tinker contributed to this report.