COVID-19 projections show higher death tolls ahead
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IHME and C19Pro projections
This chart shows the daily U.S. death toll due to COVID-19 as a solid red line on the left, with a dotted line that traces the seven-day rolling average. To the right, the gray area shows the range of uncertainty in today’s projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, with a dashed trend line that stabilizes and then rises sharply. The pink area shows the range of uncertainty for Youyang Gu’s C19Pro projection, with a dotted trend line that gradually rises and then falls. (IHME / Graphics)

The latest projections for the course of the coronavirus pandemic in the U.S. suggest that there’s going to be an upswing in the daily death toll, but they differ in how that upswing will develop.

If you go by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, whose computer models have been closely watched since the early days of the pandemic, the trend appears likely to stabilize at somewhere between 650 and 750 COVID-related deaths per day nationwide through the start of September. Then the model calls for a steady rise to more than 1,400 daily deaths by October.

The institute’s best guess is that the cumulative U.S. death toll will exceed 200,000 on Oct. 1. The current U.S. death toll, according to Johns Hopkins University’s coronavirus dashboard, is just over 116,000.

“Rising rates of COVID-19 infections, hospitalizations and deaths are now occurring in the wake of eased or ended distancing policies,” the institute’s analysts said in an update that was issued last week and is already out of date. “We, collectively, must equip ourselves for epidemic response and mitigation strategies beyond the world’s first phases of this pandemic.”

In the past, a rival computer model from New York-based data scientist Youyang Gu has painted a grimmer picture than IHME’s model. But as of today, Gu’s model anticipates fewer deaths by Oct. 1 — 192,855. The model calls for a gradual rise in the death rate, followed by a gentle downward trend starting in mid-August.

In a tweet, Gu noted that the trends relating to confirmed COVID-19 cases vary markedly on a regional basis:

The Institute for Disease Modeling, based in Bellevue, Wash., has been tracking Washington state’s COVID-19 trends since March. Its latest update, issued Saturday, reported that transmission rates appear to be increasing on both sides of the state.

“Additional interventions are needed to prevent exponential growth,” the research team said.

Despite such concerns, King County today submitted an application to the Washington State Department of Health to ease restrictions further.

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“After two weeks in what has been called Phase 1.5, our case counts, health care system capacity and other metrics are holding steady, and we are ready to move to Phase 2,” King County Executive Dow Constantine said in a news release. “But make no mistake — successful economic recovery will depend on everyone in King County carefully following the recommendations of our public health experts, including wearing face coverings and avoiding unnecessary contacts, so together we can keep reopening our community while holding the line on the pandemic.”

In their application, county officials acknowledged that virus transmission was increasing, and that they haven’t met all of their goals for tracing people who have been in close contact with those have tested positive for COVID-19. But most of the trends were heading in the right direction.

Under Phase 2, businesses can typically operate at twice the indoor capacity permitted during the current phase, provided they meet all reopening requirements set out by the state’s guidance. For example, restaurants can operate at 50% of indoor seating capacity as opposed to 25%.

The state is expected to process the application this week, and King County could move to Phase 2 as early as Friday. For more about the application and what Phase 2 of the state’s Safe Start recovery plan entails, check out today’s news release.

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