A top COVID-19 model predicts 150,000 more deaths in the U.S. in the next month as the country heads into what is anticipated to be the worst phase of the pandemic.

Projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation show the death toll over the next month could be far beyond that of December, which set a record at about 77,500.

Overall, nearly 348,000 people in the U.S. have died from the coronavirus, and there have been more than 20.1 million cases in the country since the outbreak began.

Public health experts predict the coming months will be among the most dangerous since the pandemic began, anticipating spikes in cases stemming from Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings. Those spikes could be exacerbated during colder months as social events move to indoor settings where the virus can more easily spread.

The country is currently facing record high rates of hospitalizations. An all-time high of 125,379 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized Thursday, according to the Covid Tracking Project, a figure that fell only slightly to 125,057 Friday. The number of hospitalizations marks a 163 percent spike from two months ago.

Fears are also rising as a number of states report their first confirmed cases of a new variant of the coronavirus that is believed to be more infectious than the strain that has been sweeping the globe. The variant was first spotted in the U.K., leading it to impose strict restrictions across England to blunt the virus’s rapid spread.

The mutant variant is not believed to be any more lethal than the strain that has already infected more than 84 million people around the globe.

The rollout of two vaccines, and potentially more in the coming weeks, has provided a glimmer of hope that the pandemic’s end may be near, but Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious diseases expert, said last month that 90 percent of the population would need to be vaccinated to achieve herd immunity.

The Hill