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New IHME model nearly doubles projected COVID-19 deaths for the US

An entrance sign shown at the Life Care Center in Kirkland, Wash., one of the early epicenters of COVID-19 in the United States. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Nearly 135,000 coronavirus deaths in the United States by August 4 is the updated projection in the latest modeling from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics – which has just undergone a major overhaul.

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Starting Monday, IHME forecasts for the United States are based on a new hybrid model; statistical as always, but now combined with a disease transmission model. The new model captures the impact of changes in social distancing mandates, changes in mobility, and the impact of testing and contact tracing. This allows modelers to predict a resurgence if and when more social distancing mandates are relaxed, according to IHME.

“This new model is the basis for the sobering new estimate of U.S. deaths,” said IHME’s Dr. Christopher Murray. “The model will allow for regular updating as new data are released on cases, hospitalizations, deaths, testing, and mobility. It can also be used to identify what may be the trajectory to progressively relax social distancing while still limiting the risk of large-scale resurgence.”

As with previous IHME models, there is a wide range in these projections. The IHME’s model assumes that mandates that are currently in place will stay in place until infections are minimized.

The projected U.S. deaths through early August total 134,475, with a range of 95,092 to 242,890.

“In each state, the evolution of the epidemic depends on the balance between relaxed social distancing, increasing temperature, and rising rates of testing and contact tracing,” Murray said. “We expect that the epidemic in many states will now extend through the summer.”

By wearing masks, staying six feet away from others, and washing hands, individuals can lower the risk of transmission.

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Washington state’s death estimate also increased in the recent model, up from 877 deaths to 1,159.

“Washington state has a slower steady decline in the current forecasts,” Murray said. “So our numbers compared to strictly the statistical death model are slightly higher and extend transmission out farther into June than we had previously thought. But compared to many states where we’re seeing expansion, at least for a while, like Texas, Florida, Georgia, some of the states in the Midwest, Minnesota, Iowa, South Dakota, we’re in good shape here in Washington.”

Oregon also looks better than many other states.

“So the Pacific Northwest is looking in reasonably good condition, assuming that we keep what mandates are still in place going, and that’s part of what we’re assuming,” Murray said.

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