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Coronavirus model informing White House social-distancing rules

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  • As many as 2.2 million people in the US are predicted to die from COVID-19 if the disease is not mitigated, according to an analysis that the White House is using to guide its response, which was released Tuesday.
  • Death tolls will be curbed dramatically if the shutdown continues.
  • The White House is recommending that social distancing continue until at least April 30.
  • But as many as 240,000 people are still predicted to die, even with shutdowns and stay-at-home orders.
  • President Donald Trump previously said he wanted to reopen parts of the economy by Easter, but the trove of data about deaths from the coronavirus made him change course.
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

As many as 2 million lives could be saved if the US stays on course with its shutdown, according to a model that has been guiding the White House’s planning for the pandemic. 

Dr. Deborah Birx, who is leading the Trump administration’s efforts against the coronavirus pandemic, presented the data during a White House press briefing on Tuesday. The presentation showed that between 1.5 million and 2.2 million people would die without mitigation.

With actions to stop the virus’s spread, US deaths are projected to number between 100,000 and 240,000 people, which Birx said was “still way too much.” Mitigation steps include people washing their hands, not touching their faces, staying in their homes, gathering only in groups of fewer than 10 people, and limiting travel.

“It’s very much focused on the next two weeks and the stark reality of what this virus will do as it moves through communities,” Birx said as she presented the data to reporters. She has used the model to help convince President Donald Trump to support the continued shutdown, The New York Times reported.

 

Goals of Community Mitigation

Dr. Deborah Birx presented a model showing that coronavirus deaths would rise significantly if community mitigation were to stop.

The White House


‘Mitigation is going to be doing the trick for us’

Birx then provided data from different states, saying it provided “great hope about what is possible.” Washington state and California, in particular, appear to have the virus under control through widespread testing and containment measures.

Cumulative Cases by State

Some states have been able to curb the number of coronavirus cases more than others.

The White House


“We are really convinced that mitigation is going to be doing the trick for us,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during the presentation. “What you have is increase in new cases at a certain rate. When the increase in cases begin to level off, the secondary effect is less hospitalizations, the next effect is less intensive care, and the next effect is less deaths.”

Fauci stressed that the numbers were predictions that may not necessarily come to pass.

“This is a number that we need to anticipate, but we don’t necessarily have to accept it as being inevitable,” he said. “We can influence this to varying degrees.” 

Staying shut down past Easter

Trump initially wanted to open parts of the US by Easter, fearing the shutdowns and stay-at-home orders were causing severe damage to the economy. But the president’s sentiments clashed with public-health officials, who used the model presented Tuesday to persuade him to change course. 

Trump has since walked back the Easter deadline, and his administration is now calling for social distancing until at least April 30

“This is the time for all Americans to come together and do our part,” Trump said at Tuesday’s press briefing ahead of the presentation.

Birx said the data she presented that projected as many as 240,000 people could die was assembled by “five or six international and domestic modelers,” citing Harvard University, Columbia University, Northeastern University, and Imperial College London.

“It was their model that created the ability to see what these mitigations could do — how steeply they could depress the curve,” Birx said.

The US has the biggest coronavirus outbreak

Another part of the data came from a model designed by researchers at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. 

The analysis uses data from states, hospital groups, other countries, and the World Health Organization. It assumes that state and local officials will impose stay-at-home orders through May, including limiting travel, shuttering schools, and closing what they deem to be nonessential businesses. It says deaths will rise in states that don’t take at least three of these steps.

IHME

The White House presented a second model about coronavirus deaths.

Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation/University of Washington


The US has the highest known number of coronavirus cases, with at least 175,000 people infected and at least 3,170 deaths. Other researchers have varying predictions that range from 200,000 to 2.2 million deaths in the US by the end of the year.

Do you have a personal experience with the coronavirus you’d like to share? Or a tip on how your town or community is handling the pandemic? Please email [email protected] and tell us your story.

And get the latest coronavirus analysis and research from Business Insider Intelligence on how COVID-19 is impacting businesses.

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