A newly revised coronavirus mortality model predicts nearly 135,000 Americans will die from COVID-19 by early August, almost double previous projections, as social-distancing measures for quelling the pandemic are increasingly relaxed, researchers said on Monday.
The ominous new forecast from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) reflect “rising mobility in most U.S. states” with an easing of business closures and stay-at-home orders expected in 31 states by May 11, the institute said.
“We expect that the epidemic in many states will now extend through the summer,” the IHME director, Dr. Christopher Murray, said in a statement.
The projections reinforced warnings from public health experts that a rising clamor to lift restrictions on commerce and social activities — in hopes of healing a ravaged economy — could exact a staggering cost in terms of human lives.
The novel coronavirus is already known to have infected almost 1.2 million people in the United States, including 68,762 who have died from COVID-19, the respiratory illness it causes, according to Reuters’ own tally.
The institute’s predictive coronavirus model, periodically revised to account for changing circumstances and scientific insights surrounding the pandemic, has become an influential data point often cited by the White House and public health authorities in gauging the crisis.
The IHME projections are presented as a statistical range of outcomes. The latest forecast predicts the cumulative number of U.S. deaths from COVID-19 will run from as few as 95,092 to as many as 242,890 by Aug. 4 — with 134,475 lives lost representing the most likely, middle ground.
By comparison, the previous revision issued on April 29 put the middle-case figure at 72,400 deaths, within a range between 59,300 and 114,200 fatalities.
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The upward spike reflects increasing human interactions as more states begin to ease social-distancing requirements — the chief public health tool available to curb the spread of a highly contagious virus for which there is no vaccine and no cure.
The relaxation of social-distancing rules will more than offset any decline in transmissions that might come from warmer weather and stronger containment measures, such as more wide-scale testing and tracing the contacts of infected people so they too can be tested and isolated, Murray said.
The revised IHME projections coincided with disclosure of an internal Trump administration forecast predicting a surge in COVID-19 cases killing 3,000 Americans a day by the end of May, up from a current daily toll that a Reuters tally places at around 2,000.