White House projects grim death toll from coronavirus
President Trump’s top health advisers said Tuesday that models show between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die from the novel coronavirus even if the country keeps stringent social distancing guidelines in place.
Without any measures to mitigate the disease’s spread, those projections jump to between 1.5 and 2.2 million deaths from COVID-19.
Dr. Deborah Birx explained the data, which underpinned Trump’s decision to extend social distancing guidelines to the end of April, at a White House briefing on Tuesday, urging the public to steel for difficult weeks ahead while expressing hope that the efforts would reduce the spread of the coronavirus.
“There’s no magic bullet. There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors,” Birx, who is coordinating the federal government’s response to the coronavirus pandemic, said, adding that those behaviors could change “the course of the viral pandemic.”
Trump, who has adopted an increasingly somber tone when speaking about the virus, urged Americans to heed the guidelines while warning of a “tough period” ahead.
“We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks, and then hopefully … we’re going to start seeing some real light at the end of the tunnel,” Trump said in remarks from the White House briefing room Tuesday evening shortly before Birx spoke.
“As a nation, we face a difficult few weeks as we approach that really important day when we’re going to see things get better all of a sudden,” the president continued. “Our strength will be tested, and our endurance will be tried, but America will answer with love and courage and ironclad resolve.”
The Trump administration has urged people to avoid restaurants and bars, bypass discretionary travel, and work from home if possible while avoiding gathering in groups of more than 10 people. Several states have issued orders limiting movement outside the home to essential activities only.
Such restrictions have dampened the economy, but Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House coronavirus task force, said now is not the time to take the foot off the accelerator by telling people to return to their daily lives.
“This is tough. People are suffering. People are dying. It’s inconvenient from a societal standpoint, from an economic standpoint to go through this, but this is going to be the answer to our problems,” Fauci said.
“Let’s all pull together and make sure as we look forward to the next 30 days, we do it with all the intensity and force that we can,” he added.
Still, Birx and Fauci stressed that the total number of deaths is not certain to hit 100,000 if Americans strictly follow recommendations on social distancing.
“We really believe and hope every day that we can do a lot better than that,” Birx said.
Birx displayed a slide showing the cumulative cases in California and Washington state and how strong mitigation techniques such as shelter-in-place orders kept cases from rising significantly, comparing them with a steep rise in cases in the New York metro area, which has become the epicenter of the virus. At the same time, she warned of worrying signs in Detroit, Chicago, New Orleans and Massachusetts.
Fauci said the administration’s goal over the next 30 days is to help New York and New Jersey “get through” their outbreaks while preventing outbreaks in other states and metro areas by strictly adhering to social distancing recommendations.
Birx said the administration is relying on a model produced by Dr. Christopher Murray of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington that assumes full mitigation efforts are in place and is updated daily and nightly based on the conditions on the ground.
Trump on Sunday announced that he would extend nationwide social distancing guidelines until April 30, after last week expressing hope that the country would be “opened up” by Easter Sunday.
The data released by the White House coronavirus task force on Tuesday contributed heavily to the president’s decision to hold off on relaxing the guidelines in parts of the country in a bid to revive the U.S. economy. The White House first issued the social distancing guidelines 15 days ago.
There are at least 181,000 confirmed cases of the coronavirus in the U.S., including 3,606 deaths, as of Tuesday evening, according to Johns Hopkins University. The U.S. now has more confirmed cases than any other country, with outbreaks rapidly growing in New York, New Jersey, Louisiana, Michigan, Florida and other states.
Updated at 6:45 p.m.