Covid-19 deaths in US projected to more than double by January, experts recommend masks and social distancing

More than 410,000 Americans could die by January 1 in the 'most likely' scenario that assumes individual face mask use and other mitigation measures remain unchanged

                            Covid-19 deaths in US projected to more than double by January, experts recommend masks and social distancing
(Getty Images)

Scientists have issued a grim forecast: over 410,000 people in the US could die from the coronavirus by January 1, more than doubling the current death toll. The Covid-19 model, which is followed by the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), also predicts that the daily death rate in the US could reach nearly 3,000 per day in December.

According to projections made by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), globally, cumulative deaths expected by January 1 total 2.8 million, about 1.9 million more from now until the end of the year. Daily deaths in December could reach as high as 30,000.

“These first-ever worldwide projections by country offer a daunting forecast as well as a roadmap toward relief from Covid-19 that government leaders, as well as individuals, can follow. We are facing the prospect of a deadly December, especially in Europe, Central Asia, and the US. But the science is clear and the evidence irrefutable: mask-wearing, social distancing, and limits to social gatherings are vital to help prevent transmission of the virus,” writes IHME Director Dr Christopher Murray.

The institute modeled three scenarios. A “worse case,” in which mask usage stays at current rates and governments continue relaxing social distancing requirements, could lead to 4 million total deaths by the end of the year. A “best case” of 2 million total deaths are forecasted if mask usage is near-universal and governments impose social distancing requirements when their daily death rate exceeds 8 per million. The third one is a “most likely” scenario that assumes individual mask use and other mitigation measures remain unchanged, resulting in approximately 2.8 million total deaths. The analysis reveals that in the US, for example, under the worst-case scenario, 620,029 (range of 463,361-874,649) are forecasted to die by January 1, while 410,451 (range of 347,551-515,272) are projected to die under the most likely scenario. In the best-case scenario, the model predicts that 288,381 Americans (range of 257,286-327,775) may die by January 1. 

“In the global projections of the Covid-19 pandemic by nation, the IHME is predicting that nearly 770,000 lives worldwide could be saved between now and January 1 through proven measures such as mask-wearing and social distancing. The references to lives saved and 30,000 daily deaths in December represent the differences between the “best case” and “most likely” scenarios,” explain authors. 

Experts say that the science is clear and the evidence irrefutable: mask-wearing, social distancing, and limits to social gatherings are key to help prevent coronavirus transmission. (Getty Images)


According to the scientists, each of the scenarios represents a significant increase over the current total deaths, which they say is estimated at nearly 910,000 worldwide. The increase is due in part to a likely seasonal rise in Covid-19 cases in the Northern Hemisphere, argues the team. The experts say that to date, Covid-19 has followed seasonal patterns similar to pneumonia, and if that correlation continues to hold, northern countries can anticipate more cases in the late fall and winter months. “People in the Northern Hemisphere must be especially vigilant as winter approaches, since the coronavirus, like pneumonia, will be more prevalent in cold climates,” says Murray.

Under the most likely of IHME’s scenarios, the nations with the highest per capita total deaths would be the US Virgin Islands, the Netherlands, and Spain. By the World Health Organization (WHO) region, this scenario projects 959,685 total deaths by January 1 in the region of the Americas, 667,811 in the European region, 79,583 in the African Region, 168,711 in the Eastern Mediterranean region, 738,427 in the South-East Asia region, and 191,598 in the Western Pacific region. “Looking at the staggering Covid-19 estimates, it’s easy to get lost in the enormity of the numbers. The number of deaths exceeds the capacity of the world’s 50 largest stadiums, a sobering image of the people who have lost their lives and livelihoods,” says Murray.  

The research team cautioned against pursuing the so-called “herd immunity” strategy, which occurs when a large proportion of a community becomes immune to the virus through infection and recovery. The worst-case scenario in these projections reflects a situation where leaders allow transmission to run through their population, resulting in significant loss of life. “This first global forecast represents an opportunity to underscore the problem with herd immunity, which, essentially, ignores science and ethics, and allows millions of avoidable deaths. It is, quite simply, reprehensible,” explains Murray.

As of September 5, 873,270 people have died from Covid-19 globally, and over 26,522,390 have been infected, according to Johns Hopkins. The US has so far reported more than 6,200,370 coronavirus cases and 187,750 Americans have died in the Covid-19 pandemic.

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