The United States has passed Italy to become the country with the most coronavirus deaths. However, as a proportion of the total population in the U.S., virus deaths remain at about one-sixth of those in hard-hit Italy or Spain.
More than 19,700 people in the U.S. have died due to complications from the coronavirus as of Saturday afternoon, according to data from the Johns Hopkins University dashboard. Friday, the U.S. saw its highest daily death count yet, at 2,108.
Italy’s death toll was at 19,468 and Spain, the nation with the third-most fatalities, had 16,353 reported deaths. Worldwide, the death count has surpassed 104,000.
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Estimates on how many people will end up dying in the U.S. have fluctuated in recent weeks as new data continues to pour in.
A leading projection model from the University of Washington has forecast about 60,000 deaths in the country, far less than the 100,000 to 240,000 deaths that were projected in a White House release less than two weeks ago.
“The real data are telling us that it is highly likely that we’re having a definite positive effect by this mitigation things that we’re doing – this physical separation – so I believe we are gonna see a downturn in that,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told NBC’s “Today” show on April 9.
“And it looks more like the 60,000 than the 100,000 to 200,000.”
Dr. Deborah Birx of the White House task force said Friday the U.S. is starting to see its curve level off, but she warned that we haven’t reached the worst of the epidemic – despite the University of Washington’s model projecting Friday as the peak of daily deaths.
Italy’s curve flattening
While Italy is far from out of the woods, the country’s daily increases in new cases have stabilized. On Thursday, April 9, Italy reported 4,204 new cases and 610 deaths, both figures on par with recent days.
Meanwhile, the U.S. reported 32,385 new cases and 1,783 on the same day.
Raw totals aren’t the best measurement due to the enormous differences in population — Italy has about 60 million people, while the U.S. has upwards of 320 million. But the flattening of Italy’s curve after spikes over the past month may provide an effective model for projecting the virus’ future toll in the U.S.
Italy became the epicenter once the virus expanded outside of China, and hospitals in the country – particularly the northern regions – quickly became overrun. The country instituted a nationwide lockdown on March 9 that has been extended through April 13 and is expected to be extended even further.
Birx said Friday that the U.S., for the first time, is starting to see its curve level, “like Italy’s did about a week ago.”
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What did previous US death estimates say?
Earlier in the week, the same University of Washington model projected about 82,000 deaths, a drop from previous iterations. Changes to the model reflect “a massive infusion of new data,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the school’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.
On March 31, the White House released estimates that as many as 240,000 Americans may die in the crisis.
And in mid-March, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s worst-case-scenario had about 160 million to 210 million Americans infected by December and an estimate that between 200,000 and 1.7 million people could die by the end of the year.
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Speaking to CNN, senior faculty member Dr. Gregory Roth explained that the models are ever-changing.
“The changes in the model are driven by new data and improved methods, particularly around estimating how uncertain the forecasts may be,” Roth said. “As we receive more data on COVID-19 deaths, we expect our projections to adjust to follow those new trends.”
However, the more optimistic projections are based on the assumption that Americans will continue to stay vigilant about social distancing.
“It is unequivocally evident that social distancing can, when well implemented and maintained, control the epidemic, leading to declining death rates,” Murray told CNN.
Said Roth: “We haven’t seen a relaxing of social distancing in any parts of the United States yet. In the future, if social distancing was relaxed, we would be concerned that there would be a rise again in the number of cases.”