Key coronavirus forecast predicts over 410,000 total U.S. deaths by Jan. 1: ‘The worst is yet to come’

Health, Fitness & Food

Roberto Arias prepares a grave for burial at Woodlawn Cemetery during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Everett, Massachusetts, U.S., May 27, 2020.

Brian Snyder | Reutes

The U.S. will top more than 410,000 Covid-19 deaths by the end of the year as the country heads into the fall and winter, according to a new forecast from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington.

Covid-19 has already killed at least 186,800 people in the U.S., according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University. The model by IHME, whose models have previously been cited by the White House and state officials, forecasts that the death toll will more than double by Jan. 1 and could reach as high as 620,000 if states continue to ease coronavirus restrictions.

“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,” Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME, told reporters on a conference call Friday.

IHME released three projections based on different assumptions: a worst-case scenario, a best-case scenario and a most likely scenario. The most likely scenario estimates that Covid-19 will kill 410,450 people in the U.S. by Jan. 1. The worst-case scenario, which assumes that restrictions and mask directives will ease, projects up to 620,028 people in the U.S. will die by then and the best-case scenario, which assumes universal masking, predicts that 288,380 people in the U.S. will die from Covid-19 in 2020.

“We are facing the prospect of a deadly December, especially in Europe, Central Asia, and the United States,” Murray said in a statement. “But the science is clear and the evidence irrefutable: mask-wearing, social distancing, and limits to social gatherings are vital to helping prevent transmission of the virus.”

In June, IHME predicted that the death toll in the U.S. would reach 200,000 by October, which appears to be on track.

The group projects the global death toll, which currently stands at 869,600, will rise to roughly 2.8 million by Jan. 1. The best-case scenario — where there’s widespread adoption of masks and other safety precautions — forecasts a worldwide death toll of more than 2 million. The worst case scenario predicts 4 million cumulative global deaths before the end of the year.

IHME’s latest forecast is based on the assumption that cooler weather in the Northern hemisphere and will have people spending more time indoors where the coronavirus more easily spreads, keeping the death toll high.

“People in the Northern Hemisphere must be especially vigilant as winter approaches, since the coronavirus, like pneumonia, will be more prevalent in cold climates,” Murray said.

IHME is one of several dozen modelling groups used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to forecast the trajectory of the pandemic. The CDC gathers projections from dozens of major modelling groups and creates their own “ensemble forecast.”

The CDC’s most recent forecast, published on Thursday, projects that “deaths may decrease nationally over the next four weeks, with 3,300 to 7,500 new deaths reported during the week ending September 26.” It does not provide projections beyond that week.

This is a developing story. Check back here for updates.

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