The coronavirus pandemic is often described as “unprecedented.” While history and science can inform decisions about responding to this health crisis, there’s no way to know what will happen until it does. Still, that hasn’t stopped researchers from trying to predict the effects of preventative measures or the consequences of ending them.
Two models by researchers at prominent universities are predicting the trajectory of the pandemic through new cases, deaths and economic thresholds. The Penn-Wharton model, by researchers at the University of Pennsylvania, predicts that with no change to current policies and behaviors, there will be 2,880,973 confirmed cases of COVID-19 by July 24 and 157,287 deaths.
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The Penn-Wharton model also estimates the economic toll of the coronavirus pandemic, predicting that the United States GDP will drop by 6.4 percent compared to the previous year, but employment will climb, adding 294,340 jobs by July 24.
The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) model extends through Aug. 4, projecting a total of 141,426 deaths by July 24 and 143,357 deaths by Aug. 4. While the IHME model does not predict the cumulative number of cases at that time, it estimates that there will be 7,856 new infections on Aug. 4, declining from the more than 100,000 infections estimated currently.
The IHME model also predicts the amount of hospital resources necessary to treat COVID-19 patients, including beds and ventilators, and estimates that needs will continue declining throughout the summer after peaking in April.
These estimations assume that governments and individuals maintain current policies and behaviors throughout the summer. Many states, however, have announced plans to reopen that include gradually dropping social distancing measures.
The Penn-Wharton model also includes adjustments for partial and full reopenings as well as reduced social distancing behavior. With a full reopening and reduced social distancing, the model estimates 5,430,956 cases by July 24 (almost 3 million more than if no changes were made) and 292,692 deaths, more than 100,000 more. With a partial reopening and reduced social distancing, the model estimates 3,658,947 cases and 197,329 deaths by July 24.
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