New pandemic projection: 135,000 U.S. deaths

This chart shows the actual and projected daily U.S. death toll for COVID-19 from mid-March to Aug. 4, issued by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. The pink shaded area represents the uncertainty interval for the projection to the 95% confidence level. (IHME Graphic)

The latest projection from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Modeling and Evaluation says the coronavirus pandemic will claim nearly 135,000 lives in the U.S. by August, in part because many states are easing their social distancing restrictions.

Other projections also foresee a deadlier spring: A presentation purportedly prepared for the Trump administration and leaked to The New York Times and The Washington Post projects that there’ll be as many as 3,000 deaths per day in the U.S. by June 1, with a sharp increase coming around May 14. That’s significantly higher than the current pace of roughly 1,500 daily deaths, and close to the previous peak rate reported in mid-April.

The White House and the Centers for Disease Control disavowed the slide presentation, which carried the CDC’s logo. The Post quoted one of the researchers providing the data for the presentation, Justin Lasser of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, as saying that the modeling work was not complete and that the projection was only one of a range of forecasts.

The Institute for Health Modeling and Evaluation’s projections have been closely watched by the White House and other policymakers — in part because they’ve provided specific albeit variable estimates of total deaths. But the IHME’s projections also have come in for significant criticism from other quarters — in part because the models are based on tracking the course of the pandemic in various regions of the world, rather than the epidemiological characteristics of the virus.

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By Alan Boyle

Mastermind of Cosmic Log, contributor to GeekWire and Universe Today, author of "The Case for Pluto: How a Little Planet Made a Big Difference," past president of the Council for the Advancement of Science Writing.

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