Roberto Arias prepares a grave for burial in Woodlawn Cemetery during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Everett, Massachusetts, the United States, on May 27, 2020.
Brian Snyder | Reutes
According to a new forecast from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, the US will see more than 410,000 fall and winter Covid-19 deaths by the end of the year.
Covid-19 has already killed at least 186,800 people in the United States, according to Johns Hopkins University. IHME's model, whose models were previously cited by the White House and state officials, predicts the death toll will more than double by Jan. 1 and could reach 620,000 if states Aggressively easing coronavirus restrictions and disregarding public health guidelines.
"The worst is yet to come. I don't think that's a surprise, although I think there is a natural tendency, as we are a little bit in the northern hemisphere summer, to believe that the epidemic might go away," said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME, told reporters on a conference call Friday.
In June, IHME predicted the US death toll would reach 200,000 by October, which seems to be on the right track. However, some epidemiologists and mathematicians have criticized IHME for making predictions too far into the future.
IHME previously forecast 317,697 deaths as of December 1. The model now predicts the daily death toll in December could rise to nearly 3,000 a day, from currently over 800 a day, according to Hopkins.
IHME has published three new projections based on different assumptions: a worst-case scenario, a best-case scenario and a highly probable scenario. The most likely scenario is that Covid-19 will kill 410,450 people in the US by Jan 1st. Worst-case scenario, assuming restrictions and masking guidelines are relaxed, up to 620,028 people will die in the U.S. by then, the best-case scenario that requires universal masking predicts 288,380 people in 2020 will die of Covid-19 in the US.
Government policies and public compliance will largely determine how many people die from Covid-19 this fall and winter, Murray said. He added on a call that he believes the virus, like other coronaviruses, has a seasonal element and that it will spread more easily in colder northern climates later in the year.
"We face the prospect of a fatal December, particularly in Europe, Central Asia and the United States," Murray said in a statement. "But the science is clear and the evidence is irrefutable: wearing masks, social distancing and social gathering boundaries are critical to preventing the virus from spreading."
On a call, Murray added that widespread use of masks is unlikely to be enough to reduce the spread of the virus in the fall and winter. He said the question, from a political standpoint, is what kind of social distancing restrictions are most effective and there isn't enough public data to answer that question, he said.
Daily new cases of Covid-19 in the US have declined since their peak in late July, with more than 70,000 new cases per day. The daily new cases seem to have reached a plateau again with over 40,000 new cases per day. A widespread spread, which is worrying according to leading health authorities, goes into the fall. Despite the decline in new cases, the number of daily deaths from Covid-19 in the US has remained high, with nearly 1,000 new deaths per day, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Murray said daily new cases both globally and in the US could continue to rise or even fall through September, but are likely to increase in October.
The group predicts that the global death toll, currently standing at 869,600, will rise to around 2.8 million by January 1. The best-case scenario – where masks and other safety precautions are widespread – predicts a global death toll of more than 2 million. The worst-case scenario predicts 4 million cumulative deaths worldwide by the end of the year.
IHME's latest forecast is based on the assumption that when the weather is cooler in the northern hemisphere, people spend more time indoors, where the coronavirus is more likely to spread, keeping the death toll high.
"People in the northern hemisphere need to be extra vigilant as winter approaches, as coronavirus, like pneumonia, is more common in cold climates," Murray said.
IHME is one of several dozen modeling groups used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to predict the course of the pandemic. The CDC collects projections from dozens of large modeling groups and creates its own "ensemble forecast".
The CDC's latest forecast, released Thursday, suggests "deaths may decline across the country over the next four weeks, with 3,300 to 7,500 new deaths being reported in the week ending September 26". No projections beyond this week will be provided.
Another model, Covid-19 Projections, also used by the CDC in its ensemble projections, predicts 220,300 deaths by November 1.