Projected coronavirus death toll rises to 138,000 as more states mull reopening

As more states mull reopening businesses and their economies, an oft cited projection model has yet again revised its number upwards. According to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), the death toll from COVID-19 is now projected to reach roughly 138,000 by the beginning of August. 

The new number reflects an additional 2,000 projected deaths from a week ago as the new modeling approach takes into account mobility and increased testing.

“This is particularly important as many locations ease or end prior distancing policies without having a clear sense of how these actions could potentially affect COVID-19 trajectories given current trends in testing and mobility, among others,” IHME wrote about their new hybrid model.

The number includes a marked increase from the original projections which had predicted a death toll rising to roughly 73,000 by Aug. 4. And with the current death toll standing at nearly 81,000 according to Johns Hopkins University’s dashboard tracking the virus, the model shows that the death toll will continue to rise before leveling off toward the end of July.

“The question that we all have is what happens if this continual rise of cases goes on and we’re not able to get it back under control quickly enough to protect our health care systems and allow us to bring this back under control?” Dr. Michael Saag said in an interview on Yahoo Finance.

President Donald Trump speaks about the coronavirus during a press briefing in the Rose Garden of the White House, Monday, May 11, 2020, in Washington. (AP Photo/Alex Brandon)

Saag, who is Associate Dean for Global Health at the University of Alabama in Birmingham, likened reopening states to “pulling the rods at a nuclear reactor.” “You don’t want to get it to the point of meltdown. And that’s what we’re trying to do here is prevent meltdown. Get the economy going, yes, but not at the expense of cases,” he said. 

On Monday the president slammed Democrats for wanting to reopen states “too slowly,” claiming they were doing so “for political purposes.”

“They would wait until Nov. 3 if it were up to them,” Trump tweeted, referencing Election Day. “Don’t play politics. Be safe, move quickly!”

But Saag says many states have succumbed to “political pressure” in their decision to reopen. “They’re making decisions that I think personally are not what I would do and a little bit unwise,” he said.

The White House recently shelved plans to release detailed guidelines from the CDC on how to reopen businesses in favor of more vague guidance offered on its website. 

Salon owner and stylist Kari Kinney works with customer Sadie Frazier during a styling appointment at Shampoo Salon on May 08, 2020 in Fort Worth, Texas. Texas Governor Greg Abbott announced that hair salons, barber shops and tanning salons are allowed to open on Friday amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images)

“We’ve allowed this to be a state-by-state experiment,” Saag said. “We need a national plan. We need a national policy coming — if it’s not coming from the White House, at least let CDC lead the way.”

And reopening states won’t get us to “herd immunity” like so many hope and who point to Sweden and other countries as a potential template for reopening the country, Saag said.

“For us to get herd immunity, we’re going to need in our country about 60% to 70% of people who have had the infection,” he said. “That’s about 250 million people. So far we’ve got about 1.3 [million]. We’ve seen what 1.3 million does.”

And given that the country is in “no better shape” now than a few months ago and a vaccine likely not available before the start of the new year, Saag said it’s important “to keep our public health approach in place.”

“But we need, frankly, national leadership from some quarter to coordinate us so that we’re working together as opposed to pulling apart,” he said.

Kristin Myers is a reporter at Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter.

Read more:

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