WASHINGTON (CN) — More people have now died from coronavirus in the United States than in China, but models shared by the White House Tuesday offered a flicker of hope that mitigation efforts are working to slow the outbreak — though the death toll could still hover between 100,000 to 200,000.
Immunologist and White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx and National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci discussed the latest outbreak models during the Trump administration’s regular briefing Tuesday.
The models relied on data from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health and Metrics Evaluation as well as the Imperial College in London, which predicted a hands-off approach to suppression would trigger huge numbers of confirmed cases and fatalities throughout America. Birx and Fauci agreed the data pouring in from New York, California, Washington state and New Jersey suggest the earlier models have produced a sound prediction about where the U.S. is headed if it chooses to keep up with social distancing and other similar restrictions.
Rigorous suppression tactics like stay-at-home orders that were put in place have appeared to slow the outbreak of the novel coronavirus in places like California, where the case number and death tolls rose rapidly. According to the Johns Hopkins University and Medicine Coronavirus Resource tracker, the virus has killed over 3,700 people in the United States with just over 184,000 confirmed cases.
The prospect of 100,000 deaths — which is on the lower end of the prediction shared by the task force Tuesday — is grim, but Fauci said it must be faced soberly.
“Is it going to be that much? I hope not. But the more we push on mitigation, the less of a likelihood there will be,” he said.
But that is precisely why, he emphasized, the U.S. must remain on its current trajectory with social distancing techniques: they appear to work.
“If you are able to hold that case number down, it’s a very different picture,” Fauci said.
This is what Americans should anticipate as they look at the pandemic’s impact in the weeks ahead, he added.
“But that doesn’t mean we’re going to accept it,” Fauci said.
President Donald Trump described the coming two weeks as “very, very rough” and said he expects it to be “painful.”
Initially, Trump called for the possible relaxing of social distancing restrictions around Easter. The White House changed course earlier this week and decided to extend the guidelines through April 30 following consultation with Birx, Fauci and other health experts on the task force.
Both testing and quarantine have significantly decreased case rates abroad, like in Italy where finally on Monday, after nearly 40 days, the country reported that the number of newly infected cases are dropping.
“But without the continuation [of restrictions] in the next 30 days, anything could change,” Birx told reporters as she fielded questions about where the United States is headed next.
Critically, people must also remember that downward trajectories like what has happened in Italy don’t “happen all at once,” Fauci said. There, case rates are descending even as the death toll rises.
“When new cases level off, the next effect is less hospitalization. Then the next effect is less intensive care and then less deaths,” he said. “Data on death and hospitalization will always lag.”
As the cases are poised to explode, Trump said during Tuesday’s briefing that the federal government will hold back 10,000 ventilators, extremely critical for hospitals across the U.S. that are experiencing mass shortages of the lifesaving devices.
“We’re giving massive amounts of medical equipment and supplies to the 50 states. We are also holding back quite a bit. We have almost 10,000 ventilators that we have ready to go. We have to hold them back because the surge is coming and it’s coming pretty strong and we want to immediately be able to move it into place without going and taking it so we are ready to go,” Trump said.
Neither the White House nor the FEMA responded to request for comment.