Models shift to predict dramatically more U.S. deaths as states relax social distancing

Models shift to predict dramatically more U.S. deaths as states relax social distancing

For the first time, Murray explained, the model is factoring in data from four different cell phone providers showing a major uptick in Americans’ going out in public.

This rise of mobility in the last week or 10 days is likely leading to an increase in transmission, he said.

Monday’s update is the fourth since the model debuted in late March. It’s been relied on by the White House in recent months because it presents a more optimistic forecast on health system capacity, cases and deaths than other experts have predicted.

Even with its latest forecast, the University of Washington model is still far more optimistic than a model developed by Johns Hopkins for CDC predicting as many as 3,000 deaths per day by June. Murray said that model, which the New York Times published Monday, is likely inaccurate.

“Our numbers are nowhere near that level,” he said, noting that IHME is forecasting 890 deaths per day by June 1. “This relates very much to whether the models think there is going to be a large, New York-style epidemic in some states. We don’t see that because we’re building into the modeling the rising temperatures and rising testing and contact tracing. That will put the brakes on transmission enough that we won’t see 3,000 deaths a day by June 1.”

In a statement on Monday evening, the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health called the leaked models “preliminary analyses,“ saying that they had been provided to the Federal Emergency Management Agency to help in scenario planning, were not a final version and were not meant to be used or presented as forecasts.

Still, the statement added, “the information illustrates that there are some scenarios, including the premature relaxation of social distancing, that are likely to cause significant increases in the number of COVID-19 cases and deaths in the United States.“

The White House on Monday acknowledged the existence of the internal administration document but asserted that the grim modeling had not gone through interagency vetting and “is not reflective” of any projections from or analyzed by the White House coronavirus task force.

In a statement to reporters, White House deputy press secretary Judd Deere said that the internal report obtained by The New York Times was “not a White House document” and hadn’t been presented to the coronavirus task force.

The CDC document projects north of 175,000 new cases of Covid-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, each day. That’s up from about 25,000 new cases per day last week and more than four times the peak of about 37,000 new cases per day.

The alarming modeling comes as some states are already beginning to put parts of the White House’s phased reopening plan into motion despite concerns that the administration’s guidelines for doing so have not yet been met. It also underscores fears that moving too fast to relax strict social-distancing restrictions could fuel a dangerous second wave of infections.