October 19, 2020 -- The U.S. may log nearly 390,000 coronavirus deaths by Feb. 1 — an increase of about 78% over the current tally of 218,000 COVID-19 deaths, according to a new forecast.
The update comes from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington School of Medicine. The model projects that 171,000 more deaths will occur by February.
“We expect deaths to stop declining and begin increasing in the next 1-2 weeks,” the institute researchers wrote in an update.
If all Americans use masks, the death toll could be lower and hit around 314,000. If mask mandates are lifted, the total could soar to more than 477,000 deaths.
“The winter surge appears to have begun somewhat later than the surge in Europe,” they wrote. “Daily deaths will reach over 2,000 a day in January even with many states re-imposing mandates before the end of the year.”
There are caveats to the forecast, however. As is true with any simulated projection, events and situations may change that impact the model. Some researchers have also questioned the IHME method, and it has shown to over-estimate eventual outcomes. Many other models also only predict outcomes for the next four weeks.
The CDC's national Ensemble Forecast does this, for example. The Ensemble Forecast takes the results of 44 different models to create one all-encompassing forecast. As of Oct. 5, that model predicts 3,400 to 7,100 new deaths before Nov. 5. The CDC report is a good way to find a middle ground between more aggressive forecasts and models that might under-predict future outcomes. For example, Google and Harvard have teamed up to create a public forecast that predicts another 11,900 deaths before Oct. 30.
Nearly 40 states are reporting an increase in COVID-19 cases this week, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, and 21 states have hit a record for their seven-day average in new cases.
The national total of new daily cases reached nearly 60,000 on Wednesday and 56,000 on Thursday. The seven-day average is up 16% from the week before.
“This is a very ominous sign. I think we’re in for a pretty bad fall and winter,” Peter Hotez, dean of the Baylor College of Medicine’s National School of Tropical Medicine, told CNN.
“This is the time when we could be entering one of the worst periods of our epidemic and one of our worst periods in modern American public health,” he said. “I’m very worried for the nation.”
The numbers are “quite concerning,” especially as more people spend time indoors during the fall and winter, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told Good Morning America on Thursday.
“The issue is that as we enter — as we are now — into the cooler season of the fall and ultimately the colder season of the winter, you don't want to be in that compromised position where your baseline daily infection is high,” he said. “We’ve really got to double down on the fundamental public health measures that we talk about every single day because they can make a difference.”