With the United States having more than 3 million coronavirus infections, forecasters are updating their models to reflect the recent resurgence and achieve a dark consensus: The next few months will be bad.
According to the latest models, the national number of fatalities is expected to be 200,000 by election day.
It is a clear signal that the coronavirus pandemic remains disruptive six months after the worst public health crisis in a century. The disease has put the patience and political will of American leaders to the test and has endured efforts to contain it. It flooded all hopes of a summer break, leaving the country’s best public health experts with several more months of downbursts.
“I despair of the future,” said David Eisenman, director of the UCLA Center for Public Health and Disasters. “I don’t see anything that suggests it [the future] will be much better. “
It only took four weeks for the United States to grow from 2 million coronavirus infections to 3 million. Most forecasters are now saying that if record numbers accelerate at record pace, it will probably take even less time to exceed 4 million.
The dubious milestone comes back a week after President Donald Trump said corona virus would just disappear and on the day he threatened to cut federal funding for states that would not fully reopen schools within a few weeks.
During Wednesday’s briefing with the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Vice President Mike Pence recognized the strong leaders in the south and west, but offered an optimistic view of the coming weeks.
“We are encouraged that the average mortality rate remains low and constant,” he said, adding that he has seen evidence that the resurgence is gradually reaching its peak. “We believe that every American, especially in the affected countries, must continue to do what you do.”
While mortality has been falling since April as tests improve and older Americans remain cautious, Pence’s outlook is running unlike the growing ranks of health researchers and scientists who have been following the pandemic in the US for months and who conclude that the nation’s attempts to curb the virus have lagged far behind what is a significant and lasting advance was required.
Christopher Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Health Metrics and Assessment Institute, said Tuesday that more than 208,000 people could die from the virus by November. The White House-favored IHME model generally offers rosier forecasts than most others, but Murray is now taking greater cautiousness into introducing new restrictions and increased transfers due to the reopening of schools and universities in the fall.
“Many states are expected to see significant increases in cases and deaths in September and October,” he said of his modeling.
With the nation now reporting more than 50,000 new infections every day, most experts say the concept of a second wave is out of date. The first wave is likely to continue for months, with peaks appearing in different countries. This could be followed by a possible rise in the fall if the weather changes, Murray said.
“Talking about a first and a second wave is a much less meaningful distinction because, at least in our model, we’re unlikely to hit zero,” he said.
The public health modelers first envisioned a summer of progress in which the tools refined during the country’s closure – testing, contact tracking, social distancing – would be widely used, and the Americans chastised by the severity of the early months of the pandemic would work together to contain the virus.
However, very little has happened. The Trump administration didn’t use the time to strengthen its defense, public health experts said – and instead of becoming a moment of national solidarity, the pandemic response was broken and disorganized.
Contact tracking remains completely inadequate and the use of masks has been politicized. Three quarters of Democrats who recently responded to a Pew poll said they wore masks in public most or all of the time, while only 53 percent of Republicans did the same.
“We just didn’t re-open wisely,” said David Rubin, PolicyLab director at the Philadelphia Children’s Hospital. “The nature of the answer and what is required to actually keep this at bay is fairly simple – and we as the country couldn’t agree to these basic answers.”
Rubin, who heads a team that models the spread of the virus at county-by-county level, told POLITICO that the country’s outlook is deteriorating much faster than expected, making it difficult to keep up with the burgeoning hotspots.
The deterioration in places like Arizona and Texas has also raised new questions about how much is actually spreading among the spreading states amid serious test backlogs. CDC director Robert Redfield has suggested that the actual number of cases in the United States could be ten times the number confirmed by officials.
And since much of the nation has been reopened, forecasters fear that people will trigger new outbreaks not only in their own countries but also in neighboring countries.
“We didn’t have enough protection to make sure people didn’t spread out while traveling,” he said. “These hotspots have grown into regions. It is no longer just Arizona, but the entire southwest. It’s not just Texas, it’s moving to the heartland. “
In the PolicyLab, Rubin’s team recently discussed whether something as extreme as another national ban would be enough to get the US back on track before a fall that would cause both the coronavirus and seasonal flu.
“At the moment everything is upside down,” he said. “We are in a place where many of us didn’t think we would be in early July.”
Lily Wang, an associate professor of statistics at Iowa State University, said that in late April, after most of the country was closed, her models indicated that some states could hardly see any new infections in the summer. But for that the nation would have had to stay at home much longer than she did.
Now her predicts 50,000 more deaths by early September and 80,000 more deaths by the end of October. The United States could have 4 million infections before the end of July.
Quanquan Gu, assistant professor of computer science at UCLA, also said that his models look very different today than they did a few months ago. At that time, Gu thought there could be 131,000 deaths by October. The US has already exceeded that amount, and Gu now believes 162,000 people could die by October.
“The good news is that we have already spoken about closing down non-essential businesses like bars and restaurants for many states, including California,” he said. “If we do that, we can flatten the curve again.”
Models are only as good as their assumptions and human behavior; Political changes and stupid luck are all variables that can affect the outcome. IHME’s Murray believes, for example, that a high level of mask wear could save more than 45,000 lives in the next four months.
The Model from the University of Texas predicts an additional 15,000 people will die in July, but what happens beyond that depends on whether people follow the CDC guidelines, distance themselves socially, and wear facial coverage, said Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the Covid-19 modeling consortium the University of Texas.
Government policy will also play a crucial role, but even as the forecasts got worse, Trump administration officials continued to downplay the crisis, insisting that the virus should not disrupt daily life across much of the country.
In a private call to governors on Monday, coronavirus response coordinator Deborah Birx recognized “major issues” in Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, which account for approximately 50 percent of new cases. This is evident from the POLITICO records.
The government is also closely monitoring the growing number of cases in South Carolina and Georgia. Birx is planning a tour of parts of the deep south next week.
Even so, top officials have largely focused their efforts on reviving the economy and encouraged Americans to learn to live with an ever-present pandemic.
“As the President said, the cure cannot be worse than the disease,” White House spokesman Judd Deere said in an email. “The United States will not be closed again.”
The White House has also demanded that schools be fully reopened in the fall. While it is not known how many children spread the virus, it can be assumed that school reopening has at least no effect on transmission, said Justin Lessler, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins School of Public Health.
Even so, Trump remains firmly convinced that despite warnings from public health experts and even some of his own advisors that the United States is warning that this could be dangerous, the U.S. is striving to return to normal.
The White House layoffs have resulted in “rage, anger, and rage” among scientists and health researchers who specialize in combating this type of public health crisis, said Mark Rosenberg, a long-time former senior CDC official the Atlanta region.
“It’s tempting because you see how easy it would be to do so much better, and yet in this state we don’t seem to reach the critical decision-makers and the critical decision-makers at the national level,” he said.
Still, he argued that there is still time to correct the course and save the remains of the summer months to prepare for new threats in the fall – as long as leaders are ready to face the hard work that is being done got to.
“We can change and will not give up,” said Rosenberg. “The worst is fatalism.”