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- Vermont, West Virginia, Montana and Hawaii could begin to ease restrictions by May 4.
- The model says states could begin to reopen so long as “robust containment strategies” are put in place.
- Other researchers have cautioned there are flaws in the IHME’s model.
Computer modeling projecting the course of the coronavirus outbreak from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) estimates some states may be able to relax some social distancing measures as early as May 4, so long as “robust containment strategies” are put in place to prevent a potential second wave of infections.
Vermont, West Virginia, Montana and Hawaii could loosen their restrictions as early as the week of May 4 according to the model. Other states such as Iowa, Arizona, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, Arkansas and Oklahoma could have to wait until June or early July. The model gives recommended dates for reopening all 50 states.
Researchers behind the modeling say strategies for safely easing some social distancing include widespread testing, contact tracing and isolation of confirmed cases and restricting large gatherings. The key measurement IHME researchers used in determining when states can begin relaxing social distancing measures is when they believe infections in a state will drop below one infection per 1 million people.
The projections also assume states will have adequate resources for virus testing, contact tracing and isolation of infected people. The IHME acknowledged there are likely to be state-by-state variations in how restrictions are eased.
“Each state is different,” IHME Director Christopher Murray said in a news release. “Each state has a different public health system, and different capabilities. This is not a ‘one decision fits all’ situation.”
But while the model has been a key tool that is even utilized by the White House, a consortium at the University of Texas at Austin released a different model that takes the IHME forecast as a starting point but corrects what the researchers at Texas see as shortcomings in its projections.
“The motivation for creating our model was a concern about the certainty people may be attributing to the IHME model,” Lauren Ancel Meyers, who led the Texas team of researchers, said according to The Washington Post.
Researchers say one of the biggest flaws of the IHME model is that it claims more certainty as it moves further into the future, with a shrinking margin of error, according to The Washington Post. That runs counter to how more accurate models work, because the future becomes increasingly uncertain in long-range forecasts, the Post reports.
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There are other critical differences in the models as well. The IHME model predicts the U.S. has already passed its peak of deaths last week, while the Texas model says there’s an 80 percent chance the national peak will hit May 7.
Murray has responded to criticism of IHME’s modeling by underscoring the variables inherent in any kind of forecasting.
“Forecasting is only as accurate as the data one uses in the modeling. As the quality and quantity of our data increase, we will offer policymakers refined views of the pandemic’s course.” Murray said.
President Trump's own guidelines for easing social distancing restrictions, unveiled on Thursday, leave the final decisions for those matters with state governors. And those governors are facing growing pressure from the public in states such as Ohio and Michigan, where protests have called on leaders to quickly lift stay-at-home orders and bans on large gatherings and to allow nonessential businesses to open their doors.
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