While the growth of COVID-19 cases across the United States has slowed, it remains a tremendous danger. The daily growth of confirmed cases has slowed to less than 100,000 from much more than twice that amount three short months ago. New fatal cases per day now run as low as 1,000, which is much as three-quarters lower than the peak. Nevertheless, there have been 29,633,697 confirmed cases so far, which is about 25% of the world’s total. Fatal cases in the United States are at 538,918, about 20% of the global number. A new forecast from one of the top COVID-19 research organizations is that 598,523 people will die of COVID-19 by July 1. However, the number could be higher if America reopens too quickly.
Vaccination rates have risen quickly in the past two weeks. The Biden administration says it will have enough vaccine for all Americans by May 1. At this point, 21% of Americans have received at least one dose and 11% have been fully vaccinated. Nationwide, 135,846,665 doses have been delivered and 105,703,501 have been given.
There are two challenges to further slowing the spread of the disease. The first is variants, some of which may spread faster than the version that infected most people from last January until recently. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) tracks three of these for the public: the B.1.1.7, B.1.351 and P.1 variants. These variants are in all 50 states, and epidemiologists believe that there are more than just three.
The other challenge is the opening up of parts of the United States. Texas, the second-largest state by population, is a case in point. The governor has dropped the state’s mask mandate, allowed a renewal of social gatherings and opened businesses. Public health officials worry this may cause a fourth wave of the disease.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation of the University of Washington has kept one of the most widely followed forecast models for COVID-19 death, hospitalization and test rates since just after the start of the pandemic. It provides models for almost every nation in the world.
The U.S. model has three possible paths. The first, which forecasts 598,523 deaths by July 1, is based on current conditions in the country, a rise in the presence of the B.1.1.7 variant and vaccine rates that scale higher in the next 90 days.
The model also has a scenario with fewer deaths. If there is 95% mask usage, the July 1 death level falls to 584,943. A large number of America’s states and cities continue to have mask mandates. However, in some places, like Texas, they have been dropped.
The model also has a worst-case scenario for deaths by July 1. The mobility of the U.S. population, even in those who are vaccinated, moves back to pre-COVID-19 levels. In this case, the forecast is for 655,666 deaths.
The forecast shows how sharply America’s death toll could rise if people become careless again and there is a fourth wave of the disease.