Model Shows Some States Could Ease Social Distancing Soon

Most states could relax restrictions by June 1, provided they are able to maintain containment strategies.

In Point Loma, one of San Diego’s few bagel shops closed its doors during the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by BARBARA LEONARD/Courthouse News Service)

WASHINGTON (CN) — A handful of states may be able to relax some social-distancing measures as early as the beginning of May, according to a new state-by-state analysis from an influential model that projects deaths from Covid-19.

In a new update released on Friday, the Institute for Health and Metrics Evaluation model makes projections for when each state can safely begin relaxing social-distancing guidelines, provided they maintain “robust containment strategies” like broad scale testing, contact tracing and limiting mass gatherings.

Based on the newly released state-level data, the model suggests Vermont, West Virginia, Montana and Hawaii could start pulling back on some restrictions as early as May 4, while Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, Arkansas and Oklahoma may not be able to relax social distancing until the end of June or early July.

“Each state is different,” IHME Director Christopher Murray said in a statement. “Each state has a different public health system and different capabilities. This is not a ‘one decision fits all’ situation.'”

The new modeling comes a day after the White House released new guidance for states to follow when easing up on coronavirus-driven restrictions. The White House has relied upon the IHME model when crafting its pandemic response strategy.

To predict the dates when opening back up might be safe, the IHME model forecasts when the number of infections in a state falls below one for every 1 million people. Overall, the model projects a new batch of states able to open each week from May 4 until June 29, with most states being able to relax social-distancing measures by June 1, provided they are able to stand up the containment strategies the model mentions.

The four states singled out in the update as the earliest candidates for reopening are among those least-hard hit by the coronavirus pandemic, which has now claimed more than 34,000 lives in the United States as of Friday evening. The model projects 17 people will die in Montana by August 4, while Vermont would be the hardest-hit among the four with 40 projected deaths.

All of the states have hit their projected peaks, with the model projecting Friday to be Hawaii’s highest single-day death toll.

Nationwide, the model predicts just more than 60,000 people will die from Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, by the beginning of August. The range on the prediction remains relatively large, as it allows for as many as 140,000 people dying over that time span.

The model forecasts that daily U.S. deaths peaked on Wednesday, when 2,481 people died.

The overall death projection is a downward revision from the April 13 update, which the IHME said came partly in response to new cellphone data that suggests people began limiting their movements earlier than initially predicted, particularly in southern states.

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