US could see more than 100,000 coronavirus deaths by June 1, says CDC

The virus may have had footholds in the US much earlier than previously believed as 2 Snohomish County residents, who fell ill in December, have now tested positive for antibodies


                            US could see more than 100,000 coronavirus deaths by June 1, says CDC
(Getty Images)

The number of people dying from coronavirus in the US could surpass 100,000 by June 1, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). The agency came to the conclusion after tracking 12 different forecasting models, all of which predicted at least that number of deaths.

"This week’s national-level forecasting includes 12 individual forecasts, and all indicate an increase in deaths in the coming weeks. Predicted rates of increase differ among the forecasts, depending on assumptions about the strength and coverage of social distancing behaviors. The National Ensemble Forecast suggests that the number of cumulative reported deaths are likely to exceed 100,000 by June 1," says the CDC. Dr Robert Redfield, CDC director, also tweeted the projections, stating that as of May 11, "all (forecasting) forecast an increase in deaths in the coming weeks and a cumulative total exceeding 100,000 by June 1". 

The state-level forecasts indicate that states with low numbers of deaths reported to date are not likely to see a rapid rise in the coming weeks. On the other hand, states with high numbers of deaths reported to date are likely to see substantial increases, the report suggests. The US coronavirus death toll has passed 87,500 as of May 16, the most reported deaths of any country in the world, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Over 1,442,820 Covid-19 cases have been reported so far. 

The CDC projection comes after researchers at the University of Washington revised the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model on Tuesday — often cited by the White House — predicting 147,000 coronavirus deaths in the US by August 4, an increase of 10,000 since the previous forecast on May 10. "In the US, 147,040 deaths are projected through August 4, with a range of 113,182 to 226,971. In the US, several states’ projections increased since IHME's previous forecast on May 10. Those include New York (an increase of 2,448), North Carolina (an increase of 3,222), Massachusetts (an increase of 2,084), Pennsylvania (an increase of 1,677) and Maryland (an increase of 1,192). Reasons for some of the increases are increases in mobility and the easing of social distancing policies,” says the report.

Another forecasting model, updated till May 15, also presents the most likely dates that the US will surpass certain "death milestones", as well as the probabilities of the US surpassing those milestones by different time horizons. “For example, we estimate a 95% chance that the US surpasses 100,000 deaths by June 1, with May 24 being the most likely date," it says. The projections show that US deaths will most likely surpass 90,000 by May 18, 100,000 by May 24, and 125,000 by June 14. This is also one of the forecasting models referenced by the CDC. 

US states with low numbers of deaths reported to date are not likely to see a rapid rise in the coming weeks but states with high numbers of deaths reported to date are likely to see substantial increases (Getty Images)

Covid-19 may have arrived in US earlier than believed

Two residents of Snohomish County, Washington, who fell ill with Covid-19-like symptoms in December have now tested positive for antibodies against the new coronavirus. The findings suggest the virus might have arrived in the US much earlier than thought.

One of these residents, identified as Jean, says she fell ill shortly after Christmas and had a dry cough, fever and body aches, according to a report by The Seattle Times. She went to the doctor twice, had chest X-rays, and got a prescription for an inhaled medication. At the time, Covid-19 had not been formally discovered. However, this month, Jean’s doctor told her that a blood test showed she was positive for Covid-19 antibodies. 

"Months later, after the novel coronavirus pandemic had exploded across western Washington, the nation and into the American consciousness, Jean and dozens of others like her, have wondered if their early winter colds really were undiagnosed cases of Covid-19. But her case didn’t seem to fit the profile. She hadn’t traveled abroad, and the official timeline was off: The first known patient infected by Covid-19 — a Snohomish County man who’d recently traveled to China — wasn’t even confirmed until more than three weeks after she became ill," says The Seattle Times. It adds, "But after Jean received word from her doctor earlier this month that a highly touted serology test found a sample of her blood positive for antibodies to COVID-19, she’s now convinced the official timeline is wrong — and public health officials say she may be right."

While Jean's test result is not definitive proof that she had Covid-19 in December, her positive raises the question of whether the novel coronavirus arrived in Washington, and the US, earlier than previously known. Local health officials, who reviewed the results, said that it had a second positive antibody case involving a person who showed symptoms in December, but did not provide any further details. "They are being considered ‘probable. However, they are not captured in our case counts from January 20 forward," Heather Thomas, a Snohomish Health District spokeswoman, told The Seattle Times. Thomas said that a brief report accounting for all of the district’s known reports of positive antibody tests, about 30, would be issued. 

During a May 15 briefing, Snohomish health district officer, Dr Chris Spitters, said that as of May 14’s accounting, there were 3,049 cases of coronavirus involving Snohomish County residents. Of these, 2,777 are confirmed cases, that is a positive PCR test from the respiratory tract, and 295 are probable. 

“Now, those two numbers don't exactly add up to the 3,049 because of differences in the time of day when we got those numbers and finalized them, but they roughly add up to 100%. And so about the 295 probable cases. Of those, 35 are folks who had a positive serologic test for Covid-19 and who, upon interview by the Health District, reported what we call a clinically compatible syndrome, a constellation of symptoms that sounds like it could have been Covid-19," said Spitters. He further said, "And so those two in combination, according to the case surveillance guidelines, provide enough evidence for us to call them a probable case. And then we also have an additional 20 or 30 positive serologic results that have been reported in and that we have yet to interview the cases about that." 

He acknowledged that the “source of some of the questions that are out there” can be attributed to two people with positive serologic results, who reported a Covid-19-like illness back in December 2019. This, he said, is about a month or so prior to when we first recognized the initial detected case in Snohomish County in the individual who had arrived from China. 

“The symptoms that those individuals reported overlap greatly with other respiratory tract infections. There was no testing of those infections that occurred at the time, so it's possible and frankly, I think, more likely that they had a non-Covid-19 respiratory viral illness in December and subsequently had an asymptomatic or minimally symptomatic Covid-19 infection, subsequent to that and before now, prior to when they were tested,” said Spitters.

“There's a saying in medicine. When you hear hoofbeats, think horses, not zebras. And so, you know, the horse in that scenario would be that they had a non-Covid-19 infection in December, and then subsequently got infected with COVID-19 but didn't know it, developed antibodies, and then here we are. But it's, you know, I can't, we can't say that with 100% certainty. I think that's just the more likely scenario,” he said. 

Two residents of Snohomish County, Washington, who fell ill with Covid-19-like symptoms in December have now tested positive for antibodies against the new coronavirus (Getty Images)

According to another analysis, coronavirus may have also been in Florida, much before cases were reported officially. State health officials have documented at least 170 Covid-19 patients reporting symptoms between December 31, 2019, and February 29, according to a Miami Herald analysis of state health data. Of them, 40% had no apparent contact with someone else with the virus, and the majority had not traveled. 

Testing in Florida was not available until late February, which implies that state officials did not know about the early cases in real-time, the report states. "At least 26 people who contracted Covid-19 started showing symptoms in late December or January — and at least eight of them both had not traveled and did not have contact with another person infected by the virus. The trend continued into February," says the article.

Alberto Moscoso, a spokesman for Florida Department of Health, told Miami Herald that many confirmed coronavirus patients "reported symptoms that started weeks before their confirmatory tests". “It cannot be determined definitively if these early symptoms were a result of Covid-19 or other causes,” said Moscoso. 

A previous report had said that the first coronavirus death in the US may have occurred in California on February 6, at least three weeks before the first reported death occurred in Washington state on February 29. Two people who died in California’s Santa Clara County on February 6 and February 17 were confirmed as Covid-19 deaths after autopsies, according to the County’s public health department. This makes them the earliest known victims of the coronavirus pandemic in the US. This also indicates that the virus may have spread in the US weeks earlier than previously thought, say experts. 

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