New York Times says it has obtained document that suggests administration expects daily death toll to rise throughout May
As Donald Trump proclaimed success in America’s fight against the coronavirus and continued to push for the US economy to reopen, it was reported on Monday that internal projections show the administration is expecting 3,000 deaths a day by 1 June.
Between 1,000 and 2,000 deaths are currently being reported in the US each day.
The New York Times said it had obtained an “internal document” containing projections “based on modeling by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and pulled together in chart form by the Federal Emergency Management Agency (Fema)”.
CDC and Fema “forecast about 200,000 new cases each day by the end of the month, up from about 25,000 cases now”, the paper said.
The Times report followed a Washington Post report on Saturday that said the Trump White House had followed a model for economic recovery written by Kevin Hassett, an adviser “with no background in infectious diseases”.
“By the end of April,” the Post reported, “with more Americans dying in the month than in all of the Vietnam war, it became clear that the Hassett model was too good to be true. ‘A catastrophic miss,’ as a former senior administration official briefed on the data described it.”
The White House attempted to pour cold water on the New York Times story.
In a statement, a spokesman, Judd Deere, said: “This is not a White House document, nor has it been presented to the coronavirus taskforce or gone through inter-agency vetting.
“This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the taskforce or data that the taskforce has analyzed.”
According to data from researchers at Johns Hopkins University, by lunchtime on Monday the US had recorded nearly 1,160,000 Covid-19 cases and nearly 68,000 deaths. The states worst hit are on the east and west coasts, with New York by far the hotspot, although Michigan and Louisiana have also been hard hit. Cases are rising in cities and rural areas.
But more than half of the 50 states are now attempting some form of easing of lockdown measures. Some states led by Republican governors have sought to move more swiftly.
Also on Monday, the influential Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington (IHME), a team that has been cited by the White House, revised a key piece of coronavirus modeling and almost doubled its prediction for the US death toll in next three months.
The IHME is now forecasting at least 134,000 deaths in the US by 4 August, while previously it had predicted just over 74,000 deaths.
Trump, who is heavily dependent on economic recovery for his hopes of re-election in November, spoke in favor of reopening measures at a Fox News town hall at the Lincoln Memorial in Washington on Sunday evening.
“I really believe that you can go to parks, you can go to beaches … [if] you stay away a certain amount,” Trump said, adding that it was possible to balance the demands of anti-lockdown protesters with those of governors and public health experts who warn against reopening too soon.
One of those experts, White House coronavirus taskforceresponse coordinator, Dr Deborah Birx, told Fox News Sunday the anti-lockdown protests were “devastatingly worrisome to me personally, because if they go home and infect their grandmother or their grandfather who has a co-morbid condition and they have a serious or a very … or an unfortunate outcome, they will feel guilty for the rest of our lives”.
Birx also said the administration expected between 100,000 and 240,000 people to die in the coronavirus outbreak, “and that’s with full mitigation and us learning from each other of how to social distance”.
Hours later, Trump said he thought “we’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people”, which was up from his previous prediction of 65,000. He also said the administration “may have to put out a fire” later in the year, if the virus returns.
In recent weeks, the president and his senior adviser Jared Kushner have repeatedly proclaimed success in handling the coronavirus pandemic.
Many observers have not shared their view and public health experts have warned that the US will need to dramatically ramp up testing if it is to effectively reopen the economy.
In his statement on Monday, Deere insisted the “phased guidelines to open up America again are a scientific-driven approach that the top health and infectious disease experts in the federal government agreed with. The health of the American people remains President Trump’s top priority and that will continue as we monitor the efforts by states to ease restrictions”.
However, a majority of Americans do not agree with Trump’s assessment of how he has handled the pandemic. A poll last week showed 53% of respondents disapproved.
Meanwhile, Christopher Murray, director of the IHME, said the team was gathering data about US residents’ mobility during the pandemic. He pointed out that some data was being processed in order to “reflect the effect of premature relaxation of social distance, which has a substantial effect”.