Coronavirus model projects 134,000 deaths in US, nearly double its last estimate

Dr. Christopher Murray, director at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, explains why a key coronavirus model is now projecting 134,000 US deaths by August 2020.

Posted: May 5, 2020 9:45 AM
Updated: May 5, 2020 11:15 AM


An influential coronavirus model often cited by the White House is now forecasting that 134,000 people will die of Covid-19 in the United States, nearly double its previous prediction.

The model, from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, had predicted 72,433 deaths as of Monday morning.

Relatedly, a Trump administration model projects a rise in coronavirus cases and deaths in the weeks ahead, up to about 3,000 daily deaths in the US by June 1, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times. Over the past week, about 2,000 people died daily in the US, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

The sharp increases in the two models are tied to relaxed social distancing and increased mobility in the US. States across the country -- including Florida, Colorado, Indiana, Nebraska and South Carolina -- have eased restrictions in an attempt to revive a sputtering economy and calm restless residents.

IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray told CNN's Wolf Blitzer that other factors included states adding presumptive coronavirus deaths to their statistics and the rising number of cases in some meatpacking plants in the country.

He said states have to balance their actions.

"I think the challenge for us all is to figure out what's the trajectory of relaxing social distancing on a measured pace that will protect us from big increases or even a full-scale resurgence," he told CNN.

The projections make clear that these reopenings come with fatal risks.

"It's simple logic," CNN's senior medical correspondent Elizabeth Cohen said. "When you tell people, 'Hey, you can go to bars, you can get your nails done, you can go to a restaurant,' those numbers are going to go up."

The novel coronavirus's incubation period -- or the time from exposure to developing symptoms -- ranges from two to 14 days, according to the CDC, and the virus can even spread among people who show no symptoms at all. With widespread testing still limited, the consequences of these reopenings may not be evident for several weeks.

Ali Mokdad, a professor of Health Metrics Sciences at IHME, told CNN's John King that there are "several reasons" for the increased projections.

"One of them is increased mobility before the relaxation, premature relaxation, of social distancing," he said. "We're adding more presumptive deaths as well, and we're seeing a lot of outbreaks in the Midwest, for example."

He said multiple variables impact infections -- like heat, testing capacity and population density -- but "the most important one is mobility."

Right now, he said, "we're seeing an increase in mobility that's leading to an increase in mortality, unfortunately, in the United States."

Coronavirus has killed more than 68,000 people in the US and infected more than 1,180,000, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

President Donald Trump had previously said he expected 65,000 Americans to die, but on Sunday night, he revised that estimated death toll up to 80,000-90,000 people. It may not be the last upward revision; Dr. Deborah Birx, a White House coronavirus task force official, said projections have shown between 100,000 to 240,000 American deaths, even with social distancing.

Some California beaches, shops can reopen

In California, anger had been rising at Gov. Gavin Newsom for keeping some beaches closed.

Two beach cities in Southern California -- Dana Point and Huntington Beach -- voted to file an injunction late last week against the governor's order to temporarily close all beaches in Orange County.

Newsom said Monday that two other cities --- Laguna Beach and San Clemente -- can reopen on a limited basis.

He said law enforcement officials in those areas put together an "outstanding plan" to reopen the beaches.

Other beach opening announcements could happen in the coming days, he said.

The governor also said Monday that some stores in California will be allowed to open at the end of the week

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti said he does not think the city will reopen earlier than May 15.

And San Francisco Mayor London Breed said they may need more time to open businesses responsibly so they don't undo progress made against Covid-19.

"We're talking about new guidelines for restaurants now and we're talking about new guidelines for gyms and other places, but can we say definitively that those businesses are going to be open this Friday -- no, we can't," Breed said at a press conference, adding she doesn't want San Francisco to go backwards.

Other reopenings across the US

Among the other reopenings that started Monday:

-- In Colorado, offices can reopen at 50% capacity with other guidelines, including allowing 6 feet between employees' desks and increased cleaning. Still, the state encourages businesses to allow telecommuting when possible.

-- In Florida, the first phase of reopening begins. That phase allows non-urgent surgeries, and restaurants can open for outdoor dining with 6 feet between tables and indoor seating at 25% capacity. Shops can reopen at 25% capacity. Other businesses -- including bars, gyms and hair salons -- will remain closed. Three highly populated counties are not included.

-- In Nebraska, most churches, salons and restaurants can reopen.

-- In South Carolina, the "work-or-home" order is being made voluntary and restaurants can begin outdoor dining.

-- In Vermont, Gov. Phil Scott expects thousands of residents to return to work after an executive order that allows them to operate with new safety rules. Manufacturing, construction and distribution businesses can operate with 10 or fewer employees.

-- Stay-at-home orders also expire Monday in Kansas and West Virginia.

Even in reopening states, officials continue to recommend people stay at least 6 feet away from others, wear a face covering outside the home, wash their hands frequently and avoid touching their face.

The public pressure to ease restrictions is rising even in states with significant outbreaks. This weekend, thousands gathered in California to protest coronavirus restrictions, leading to 32 arrests at the state Capitol.

In Massachusetts, demonstrators on Monday gathered outside the State House in Boston.

CNN affiliate WCVB said some of the hundreds of protesters wore masks as is required, but most did not.

Chicago reaches 1,000 deaths

Chicago, the nation's third most-populous city with 2.7 million residents, has reached the "sad milestone" of 1,000 coronavirus deaths, Mayor Lori Lightfoot said.

At least 1,014 people have died, according to the city's health department.

In two months, the number of coronavirus deaths in the city of Chicago has now more than doubled the amount of homicides in the city in 2019.

New York cases declining, but others going up

In some states, the number of coronavirus cases continues to decline, while other areas face challenges.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo reported that the number of intubations in the state hit hardest by coronavirus is down, and the total number of hospitalizations is below 10,000 for the first time since March.

Still, he has expressed frustration with the slow decline in cases, especially compared with how rapidly cases increased initially.

"We're on the other side of the mountain ... (but) the decline from the mountain is not as steep as the incline," he said.

But the improvement does not mean the nation can let down its guard.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said numbers in his city have been steady for a few days, but he is concerned about relaxing restrictions.

"I appreciate that people are wanting to open up the economy. I want to open up the economy," Walsh said on CNN's "The Situation Room with Wolf Blitzer."

"I also want to save people's lives. And I find that that's my job right now, and that's what every governor and every mayor in the United States of America's job should be right now, is saving lives and reducing the spread of the virus."

White House Coronavirus Task Force member Dr. Anthony Fauci also warned that lifting measures prematurely could lead to a rebound of the virus that could put the US in the "same boat that we were a few weeks ago."

And a second round of the virus, he said, is inevitable. Its severity will depend on how prepared the nation is, he said.

People flooded outdoor spots

Amid relaxed restrictions and a heat wave, police had challenges at some outdoor spaces, including a lack of social distancing and limited use of face masks.

For example, the Miami Beach Police Department announced it would close South Pointe Park again until further notice due to non-compliance.

Across Miami Beach over the weekend, more than 7,300 warnings were issued for failure to wear a face covering, according to police. More than 470 warnings were issued for failing to social distance, and more than 1,300 people were asked to leave parks after closing.

In New York, where parks were full of socially distanced sunbathers this weekend, Gov. Cuomo said Sunday that not wearing a mask in public is "disrespectful" to others.

To solve that, New York City is distributing 7.5 million face coverings at various locations around the city, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced Monday morning.

Five million three-ply non-medical masks and 2.5 million cloth face coverings will be distributed wherever social distancing guidelines are enforced, including grocery stores, public parks, and the Staten Island Ferry. The face coverings will also be made available at New York Housing Authority sites and city-provided meal program sites.

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