Coronavirus

New study gives worst case covid-19 scenario: America could reach 483,000 deaths by February

Researchers found that the US coronavirus death toll could be close to half a million after winter but new restrictions could help keep fatalities down.

New study gives worst case covid-19 scenario: America could reach 483,000 deaths by February
OLI SCARFF AFP

A study carried out by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) has outlined the potential risk to life that the US faces in the comings months. IHME, which is part of the University of Washington, has found a “perfect storm of rising chronic diseases and public health failures fuelling covid-19 pandemic”.

The research untaken has produced one of the most comprehensive global studies into the coronavirus pandemic and includes data from 204 countries. For the US, it does not make good reading.

Ali Mokdad, Professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the IHME, is concerned that countries may be sleepwalking into a deadly new phase of the pandemic.

How bad could it get?

Using current projections the study found that the United States is on course to suffer another 170,000 coronavirus deaths this winter. That would see the total number of Americans to have died from covid-19 hit 389,000 by 1 February.

It is important to note that their ‘current projections’ include the presumption that pandemic restrictions are reimposed for 6 weeks whenever daily deaths reach 8 per million. For context, at its peak in April the US was suffering over 14 daily deaths per million.

However there is no guarantee that those measures will so the actual figures could be far higher than that projection. If social distancing measures are not reimposed and mask-wearing does not increase in the coming months then the picture could be decidedly bleaker.

IHME’s worst-case scenario sees an additional 264,000 deaths in the next three and a half months, a rate would see the total number of coronavirus deaths reach 482,000 by the start of February. The US is currently averaging well over 50,000 new cases a day and if the infection rate continues to rise experts fear that America could be closing in on half a million deaths.

What can be done to bring the coronavirus under control?

Professor Mokdad has said that he believes the US is stuck in a ‘reactionary cycle’, in which people only change their behaviours after experiencing a substantial spike in their community.

"We are on like a roller coaster in every location in the United States," he says. "We bring cases down, then we let down our guard. But this is a deadly virus, you cannot give it a chance to circulate."

However if some widespread behavioural changes are made the study found that America could reduce the number of covid-19 deaths considerably. Chief among those changes is the increased use of face masks which have been proved to limit the rate of infection extremely effectively.

The IHME have produced data that factors in a greater use of face coverings and the difference is astonishing. Compared to their current projection, the addition of 95% mask usage in public could bring the total number of deaths before the 1 February down by nearly 75,000.

How likely is that to happen?

Achieving such high levels of adherence would almost certainly require a nation-wide mask-wearing mandate and, as it stands, that does not look like a priority of the current White House. Despite having recently contracted covid-19 himself, Donald Trump has repeatedly undermined the importance of masks, falsely claiming on Thursday evening that 85% of people who wear masks catch the virus.

As the 2020 General Election draws near the President has looked to minimise the threat posed by covid-19 and has publically claimed that the worst of the pandemic is in the past.

For Trump, that could be a calculated ploy to move focus away from the pandemic ahead of the election. A new poll from The Associated Press-NORC Center for Public Affairs Research found that Americans are largely disapproving of the President’s response to the pandemic with 65% of respondents saying that he has not taken it seriously enough.

It is an area that was picked up on by both Biden and his running mate Kamala Harris in recent debates and both have been at pains to show that they are taking the continued presence of the virus in America seriously. Harris is currently undergoing a period of isolation “out of an abundance of caution” having shared a airplane with a staffer who has now tested positive, despite having worn a medical-grade N95 face mask during the flight.

Biden used his Town Hall on Thursday evening to stress the importance of wearing masks, revealing that he would be willing to make face masks mandatory is he were to become President.

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