The United States death toll from the coronavirus pandemic could hit 410,000 before the end of 2020, with global deaths tripling over the next four months, researchers at the University of Washington projected Friday.
More than 400,000 people will have died from the virus in the U.S. by Jan. 1 under the most likely scenario, according to the projection from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). Other scenarios the group ran show only 288,381 deaths under the best case scenario and more than 600,000 under the worst case. A global death toll of 2.8 million people is the most likely scenario before the end of the year, IHME predicted.
The death toll will depend on governmental policy leading up to Jan. 1, the IHME’s researchers said. (RELATED: Leading Coronavirus Forecasting Model Predicts Over 20,000 Fewer Coronavirus Deaths In New Update)
The White House’s coronavirus task force took into account the IHME’s predictions early during the pandemic, which originated in China before spreading to the U.S., where it has killed more than 180,000 people, data from John Hopkins University show. Data also show that roughly 869,000 people have died globally from the virus.
Researchers have cast doubt on IHME’s methods, with some arguing the group’s projections extend further into the future than can be done reliably. “It’s not a model that most of us in the infectious disease epidemiology field think is well suited” to projecting death totals, Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, told reporters in April, according to Stat News.
IHME predicted on April 1 that 262,029 hospital beds would be needed on the peak date of the virus, but cut that figure down by 58% to 140,823 less than a week later. The group projected on June 11 that there would be 169,890 deaths by Oct. 1, with a range between 133,201 and 290,222.
Other experts agree with Lipsitch, who believes officials should probably not base policies designed to slow the virus on IHME’s modeling.
“That the IHME model keeps changing is evidence of its lack of reliability as a predictive tool,” Ruth Etzioni of the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Center, who has served on a search committee for IHME, told Stat News in April. “That it is being used for policy decisions and its results interpreted wrongly is a travesty unfolding before our eyes.”
Government officials instituted lockdowns in March and April to slow the spread of the virus. The measures contributed to a severe economic downturn, which culminated in nearly 17 million lost jobs over the course of three weeks in April. That number exceeded the total number of jobs lost in the 2008 recession, according to Department of Labor data released in April.
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