The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), one of the most highly regarded forecasters of COVID-19 deaths has issued data that show the number in the U.S. could reach over 600,000 by January 1 under one set of circumstances it uses as a yardstick.
The IHME based at the University of Washington periodically updates forecasts for worldwide deaths and deaths by country. Each forecast has a “current projection”, one for “mandates easing”, and one for “universal use of masks”.
The “current projection” is based on a situation where “mandates are re-imposed for 6 weeks whenever daily deaths reach 8 per million”. Under these circumstances, deaths in the U.S. are forecast at 410,540 by January 1.
Under the “universal use of masks” set of assumptions, there is “95% mask usage in public in every location, reaching levels seen in Singapore. Mandates are re-imposed for 6 weeks if daily deaths reach 8 per million”. Singapore issued strict quarantines as COVID-19 began to spread. The death figure under these circumstances the IHME says is forecast to be 288,381.
Finally, the “mandates easing” case ” there is “continued easing of social distancing mandates, and mandates are not re-imposed” Under these circumstances, deaths by January 1 are forecast to be 620,029.
The IHME sees significant trouble ahead under any of these cases. Dr. Christopher Murray, the director of IHME said as the new forecasts were announced: “The worst is yet to come. I don’t think perhaps that’s a surprise, although I think there’s a natural tendency as we’re a little bit in the Northern hemisphere summer, to think maybe the epidemic is going away.”
The forecast for 620,029 deaths is staggering, given that there have been less than 190,000 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. this year.
Several trends point to the danger that the case for a sharp rise in deaths could be accurate. The infection level at universities and colleges has soared. The New York Times has posted data that show that over 51,000 people have been infected on over 1,020 campuses as of September 3. Dr. Anthony Fauci Director of National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases told Bloomberg: “There are several states that are at risk for surging, namely North Dakota, South Dakota, Iowa, Arkansas, Missouri, Indiana, Illinois.”
And, surges have moved across the U.S. from state to state which started when New York was ravaged by COVID-19 in March and April. According to the Bing COVID-19 Tracker, New York State still leads the country in deaths at 32,971. The rise in cases in New York has slowed considerably in the last 60 days. However, in the meantime, other states have had aggressive increases in cases, led by California, Florida, and Texas. Georgia, North Carolina, and Arizona also became hot spots in mid-June.
Another factor that could drive deaths to the high end of the forecast range is the reopening of locations where large numbers of people gather. Among these are K to 12 schools, indoor restaurants and bars, and community buildings. And, the number of large private gatherings has risen, or at least the reports of them have. The most recent very visible example was the Sturgis South Dakota Motorcycle Rally which drew thousands of people. A lack of social distancing at the event has triggered a surge in cases among people who attended and those they had contact with shortly thereafter.
It is difficult to contemplate that over 400,000 more Americans could die of COVID-19 this year. But, the case made by the IHME is not far fetched if large parts of the U.S. where the disease has reemerged are not locked down quickly.