WASHINGTON – As President Donald Trump weighs whether to ease social distancing guidelines intended to slow the spread of coronavirus one of his top health advisers predicted Sunday as many as 200,000 Americans could die from the disease.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, projected millions of Americans will contract COVID-19 and between 100,000 and 200,000 people could succumb to it. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s worst-case-scenario earlier estimated at least 200,000 could die from the virus this year.
Public health officials reiterated the grim estimates Sunday as the Trump administration weighed whether to extend its 15-day guidance to slow the spread the virus. Trump has said he wants to lift recommendations that Americans work from home and avoid discretionary shopping, but also said he would consider input from health experts.
“Looking at what we’re seeing now, I would say between 100,000 and 200,000” deaths, Fauci told CNN’s “State of the Union.” “We’re going to have millions of cases.”
At midday Sunday, the U.S. had recorded about 125,000 coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University, though the true number is likely much higher. The university had tallied 2,201 deaths, with by far the highest share in New York City.
Where are things now?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention projected a worst-case scenario of 160 million to 210 million cases by December. Under that forecast, 21 million people would need hospitalization and 200,000 to 1.7 million could die by the end of the year. Health officials have cautioned that the models of infection rate vary widely.
Fauci, who described the estimates as a “moving target,” was among several members of the Trump administration coronavirus effort appearing on Sunday political shows. Whatever the numbers, the experts agreed that the virus continues to pose a major threat, including to states and cities that have not yet had a heavy caseload.
“No state, no metro area will be spared,” Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, told NBC’s “Meet the Press.” “We are asking every single governor and every single mayor to prepare like New York is preparing now.”
Estimates are based on extrapolation of data, in other words drawing conclusions about what has happened in other areas and applying those to the nation. The predictions depend on the continuation of existing factors, such as rates of transmission, said Ogbonnaya Omenka, an assistant professor and public health specialist at Butler University’s College of Pharmacy and Health Sciences.
“But those conditions are liable to change, so you cannot say with utmost certainty that things would unfold as predicted,” Omenka told USA TODAY.
Fauci’s numbers are “within reason,” Omenka said, because a recent survey result applied to the entire U.S. population would put the expected number of cases nationwide at about 8 million. Still, because of shortfalls in testing, the real number of cases is likely to be much higher than current reports show, Omenka said.