On Monday, when Donald Trump paid a sporadic visit to Planet Earth, public health officials at the White House for the first time directly and publicly stated the projected death toll from the coronavirus pandemic: between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans.
Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the federal COVID-19 task force, said government scientists had reviewed a dozen predictive models of how the disease could impact the country, and referenced one developed at the University of Washington that is rich in realtime data about the effects of efforts to "flatten the curve" of impact on medical resources.
The model, released last Thursday by UW's Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluations, is an interactive, publicly accessible digital tool, updated daily, that synthesizes information about ongoing death and infection rates in portion to the number of hospital beds, ventilators and intensive care capacity for all 50 states, between now and August.
For a self-quarantining layman, it is the most functional, accessible, clear and easy-to-grasp visualization yet of how the pandemic wave will crest, roll and break across the nation, and each of its 50 states, on a day-to-day basis over the next four months.
It also provides a visible and unambiguous graphic portrayal of the life-saving value of social distancing, school closures, business shutdowns and other mitigation steps long urged by epidemiologists, but only embraced recently by Trump and many of his political allies.
“Our estimated trajectory of COVID-19 deaths assumes continued and uninterrupted vigilance by the general public, hospital and health workers, and government agencies,” Dr. Christopher Murray, the institute director, said in a statement released by the university,
“The trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions. We encourage everyone to adhere to those precautions to help save lives," Dr. Murray said.
You can access the forecast model here.
Optimism, redefined. It is notable that the UW model is among the more optimistic of those scrutinized by the government, with some mortality numbers projected as high as 2.2 million.
The new model projects that approximately 81,000 people will die from the virus over the next four months, amid a statistically estimated range between 38,000 and 162,000 US deaths.
For the nation, it forecasts that the pandemic will peak on April 16, when the number of daily deaths will average 2,607. Overall it projects shortages under the demands of the virus of 84,671 general hospital beds and 18,905 ICU beds.
In California, which imposed mitigation measures relatively early (Governor Newsom issued a stay-at-home order on March 19, when schools and non-essential services also were closed) the model forecasts that “flatten the curve” measures are likely to be relatively effective, at least terms of available hospital beds. Deaths are projected to peak on April 28, with 122 per day in the state.
In Alabama, an example of state where there has been no stay-at-home order, and few mitigation measures, ordered, the model suggests COVID-19 will begin to overwhelm medical facilities this week, with a spike in cases continuing to grow until April 22, when the state is estimated to be suffering 341 deaths per day.
From the institute's statement:
IHME’s analysis, based on observed death rates, estimates that over the next four months in the US, approximately 81,000 people will die from the virus. Estimates range between 38,000 and 162,000 US deaths.
The forecast predicts that 41 states will need more ICU beds than they currently have available and that 11 states may need to increase their ICU beds by 50% or more to meet patient needs before the current wave of the pandemic ends. (The end is defined as fewer than 10 deaths per day nationwide.)
Pandemic politics. In a nation bitterly divided by politics, official reaction to the threat of the virus until quite recently largely had become a marker of tribal partisanship, with pro-Democratic blue states moving earlier and more broadly to implement mitigation, while red state voters more frequently scoffed at warnings about the pandemic as alarmist.
Trump for two months minimized the threat, and at a rally in February described assertions of widespread death and illness as a “hoax.”
His most recent change of heart, as reflected in somber prepared remarks on Tuesday, not only reflect a long-overdue acknowledgement of the severity of the pandemic – but also a cold-hearted calculation about the fact that it no longer primarily is hurting blue states but also has begun moving into areas that form the heart of his cultish political base.
From an L.A. Times White House report:
One former White House official said Trump’s reelection campaign advisors are terrified that the coronavirus outbreak, which so far has hit largely Democratic coastal cities hardest, will soon scythe across the rural areas that remain deeply loyal to Trump.
The advisors have warned Trump that the political consequences at the ballot box in November will be even worse if he is seen as too lax.
“Pay attention. You’re going to lose the election,” the former official said, summarizing the intervention.
There are no words.
Updates: April 1: Santa Barbara County records its first Covid-19 death.
Here's an excellent wrap up of data from other models Dr. Birx presented qt Monday's briefing, by the Washpost's Philip Bump.
Images: Update; Trump at White House briefing 3-31-20 (Twitter); Charts from University of Washington Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation; Presidential corona (Twitter).