COVID-19 could lead to more than 80,000 deaths in the US and overwhelm hospital capacity nationally even if social distancing measures are respected, new research showed today.
The US death toll for the pandemic has already soared past 1,100, with more than 73,000 confirmed infections.
Forecasters at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine analyzed the latest COVID-19 data at a local, national and international level.
These include hospitalization and mortality rates, as well as patient data in terms of age, gender and pre-existing health problems.
Specifically, they looked at the time lag between the first fatal cases and public interventions such as shuttering schools and businesses.
They then looked at each American state’s ICU bed and ventilator capacity.
The analysis warned that based on current trends, demand for both would far exceed capacity for COVID-19 patients as early as the second week of April.
During the epidemic peak – also set for some point in April – as many as 2,300 patients could die every day, according to the IHME models.
This was the case even if the population adhered to strict social distancing measures.
‘Our estimated trajectory of COVID-19 deaths assumes continued and uninterrupted vigilance by the general public, hospital workers, and government agencies,’ said Christopher Murray, IHME director.
‘The trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions.’
The analysis estimated that approximately 81,000 people in the US will die from the virus over the coming four months.
Estimates ranged between 38,000 and more than 160,000.
It forecast that a total of 21 US states will need more ICU beds than are currently available and that 12 states may need to increase their capacity by 50 per cent or more to accommodate patient needs.
The economic shutdown triggered by the coronavirus pandemic caused an unprecedented 3.3 million people to file for unemployment benefits last week alone.
‘We hope these forecasts will help leaders of medical systems figure out innovative ways to deliver high-quality care to those who will need their services in the coming weeks,’ said Murray.
Earlier this week, Harvard researchers said they believe Americans may need to be at home much longer in order to ‘flatten the curve’ of the coronavirus spread and avoid overwhelming the US healthcare system.
The Harvard study, which was posted Tuesday on the preprint server MedRxiv, claims that social distancing may have to be turned off and on like a spigot for up to two years in order to combat the virus.
In the study titled ‘Social distancing strategies for curbing the COVID-19 epidemic’, Harvard medical researchers write that ‘a single period of social distancing will not be sufficient’.
Instead, researchers believe that the US may need to try intermittent social distancing, which means there would be periods of isolation mixed in with normal interaction.
‘Intermittent social distancing can maintain critical care demand within current thresholds,’ the authors wrote. The study’s authors believe this would help free up hospital beds for the critically ill.
According to the researchers, there are two possible futures for social distancing and how it could help stop the coronavirus.
The first scenario would see the US get to a point where there is low healthcare resources, which means intermittent social distancing would need to be extended into 2022.
In the second scenario, if there are higher healthcare resources, social distancing can end in the middle of 2021.
The researchers wrote that they ‘evaluated the impact of one-time social distancing efforts of varying effectiveness and duration on the peak and timing of the epidemic with and without seasonal forcing’.
‘When transmission is not subject to seasonal forcing, one-time social distancing measures reduce the epidemic peak size.’
But, ‘under all scenarios, there was a resurgence of infection when the simulated social distancing measures were lifted’.
To break that down even further, the authors believe that there should be no more than 37.5 cases of COVID-19 per 10,000 people.
Their study shows that that should be the ‘on’ switch to begin social distancing all over again.
If the 37.5 number is maintained, they argue that it would keep the number of patients needing critical care at 0.89 persons for every 10,000 people.
Both studies came during the same week that President Donald Trump said he wants America to get back to business by Easter, suggesting some efforts to slow the spread of coronavirus outbreak will no longer be needed by then.
The president, who is concerned about the economic repercussions of an extended shutdown of nonessential business, said in a television interview on Tuesday that he wanted to see businesses returning to normal by Easter, or April 12.
‘I would love to have the country opened up and just raring to go by Easter,’ he said.
‘The LameStream Media is the dominant force in trying to get me to keep our Country closed as long as possible in the hope that it will be detrimental to my election success,’ Trump tweeted Wednesday.
‘The real people want to get back to work ASAP. We will be stronger than ever before!’
Trump also pushed back against suggestions that he is being cavalier about the prospect of more deaths being caused by a premature of reopening of the economy.
‘How many deaths are acceptable to me?’ Trump told reporters Wednesday evening. ‘None.’