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Tuesday, March 31, 2020

Coronavirus Live Updates: Grim Models Project High U.S. Toll in Months-Long Crisis

Models predicting expected spread of the virus in the U.S. paint a grim picture.

The coronavirus studies that appear to have convinced President Trump to prolong disruptive social distancing in the United States paint a grim picture of a pandemic that is likely to ravage the country over the next several months, killing close to 100,000 Americans and infecting millions more.

White House officials have not specifically said which of several epidemiological models by researchers around the world they used to persuade Mr. Trump to extend federal guidelines that call for people to remain in their homes, limit travel, work from home and refrain from gathering in groups of 10 or more. But the administration’s leading scientists — including Dr. Anthony S. Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the coronavirus response — have said that several of the publicly available studies generally match their own conclusions about the deadly impact of the virus. 

“We’ve reviewed 12 different models. And then we went back to the drawing board over the last week or two, and worked from the ground up, utilizing actual reporting of cases,” Dr. Birx told reporters during a briefing in the White House Rose Garden on Sunday. She said the evidence collected by the government experts “ended up at the same numbers.”

Dr. Birx and Dr. Fauci are expected to provide a detailed presentation about their conclusions during a briefing from the White House Tuesday evening. A senior administration official declined to reveal any information about those studies in advance. But the publicly available research suggests that even with the isolation efforts already underway to limit the spread of the virus,  infections are almost certain to soar, straining the ability of hospitals to care for infected patients and leading to a growing number of deaths.

One of those models, created by scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, predicts that deaths from the virus in the United States will rise rapidly during the month of April, from about 4,000 to almost 60,000, even with the many restrictions on movement now in place. The study suggests that the pace of deaths will eventually slow down, reaching a total of about 84,000 by the beginning of August. 

The model assumes that social distancing measures will be broadly effective across the country and uses the severe lockdown in Wuhan, China, to calibrate how the outbreak might play out in the United States. That approach has some critics because control measures imposed in the United States have generally been less stringent than those in Wuhan. While officials have told more than 250 million people to stay at home, some parts of the country, especially in the South, have resisted or delayed similar measures for fear of the economic consequences.

A second study, released on March 17 by the epidemic modeling group at Imperial College London and authored by 30 scientists on its coronavirus response team, predicted that if the United States had done nothing to prevent the spread of the virus, 2.2 million people could have died. If, however, the government tried to isolate people suspected of having the virus and people they were in contact with, the number of deaths could be cut in half, the researchers said. 

They concluded that only a suppression effort across the entire country — an expanded version of efforts now underway across wide swaths of the country — might significantly further reduce the death toll. But they warned that such efforts might have to be maintained for long periods of time in order to ensure that the threat is over. 

“The major challenge of suppression,” the British scientists concluded, is the length of time that intensive interventions would be needed, given that “we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed.” 

Mr. Trump appears to have been affected by the grim statistics. During his appearance in the Rose Garden on Sunday, the president repeatedly mentioned the worst-case scenario from the Imperial College study, saying that hundreds of thousands of lives would be saved by making the decision to continue social distancing.

“Think of the number: 2.2 — potentially 2.2 million people if we did nothing. If we didn’t do the distancing, if we didn’t do all of the things that we’re doing,” Mr. Trump told reporters. He acknowledged that even 100,000 would be a “horrible number,” but that bringing the deaths down from possible millions would show “we all, together, have done a very good job.”

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