The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention disavowed the report, although the slides carry the CDC’s logo. The creator of the model said the numbers are unfinished projections shown to the CDC as a work in progress.
The work contained a wide range of possibilities and modeling was not complete, according to Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who created the model. He said he didn’t know how the update was turned into a slide deck by government officials and shared with news organizations. The data was first reported by the New York Times.
“I had no role in the process by which that was presented and shown,” said Lessler, who added that the data was presented as an “FYI” of work still in progress to officials within the Federal Emergency Management Agency. “It was not in any way intended to be a forecast.”
The estimates showing an increase to 200,000 cases and 3,000 deaths daily are high compared to other epidemiological models. Many models, while not as high, are also predicting increasing cases and deaths as states move to reopen.
Lessler said that while the exact numbers and charts in the draft document may differ from the final results, they do show accurately how covid-19 cases could spiral out of control. He said 100,000 cases per day by the end of the month is within the realm of possibility. Much depends on political decisions being made today.
“There are reopening scenarios where it could get out of control very quickly,” Lessler said.
One federal official said the data was presented at a recent briefing for the National Response Coordination Center, a part of FEMA, which coordinates federal support during major incidents and emergencies. The official, who was not authorized to discuss internal government briefings, spoke on the condition of anonymity.
It was not immediately clear whether the projections, which also carry the logos of the departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, are based on ramped- up testing, the attempt to reopen some states, the time lag between a rise in cases and deaths or some combination of those factors.
The White House issued a statement Monday that “this is not a White House document, nor has it been presented to the Coronavirus Task Force or gone through interagency vetting. This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force, or data that the task force has analyzed.
“The President’s 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.”
A spokeswoman for the CDC said the agency did not issue the projections.
The forecast is at odds with remarks made Sunday evening by Trump, who said the United States could eventually suffer as many as 100,000 deaths. At 3,000 deaths per day and rising, the national total would quickly outstrip that number if the new report is correct.
A senior White House official said the document would not change the White House planning on reopening.
White House officials have been relying on other models to make decisions on reopening, including the IHME model and a “cubic model” prepared by Trump adviser and economist Kevin Hassett and the Council of Economic Advisers.
On Monday, however, the IHME model — widely used by states and heavily relied upon in the past by the White House — also revised its deaths significantly upward to reflect the reopenings in several states.
The IHME model — created by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — is now estimating that the United States will reach nearly 135,000 deaths by August 1. That number is significantly higher than its mid-April estimate of 60,308 deaths.
The IHME’s new higher projections “reflect the effect of premature relaxation of restrictions,” said its creator Christopher Murray. “In this era where those mandates are being relaxed, people should be aware the risk of infection is still there.”
The number of deaths estimated by the IHME model by June 1 is still much lower than those in the draft government report. But the IHME model is considered among the more optimistic projections.
Even more optimistic than that, however, is the “cubic model” prepared by Trump adviser and economist Kevin Hassett. People with knowledge of that model say it shows deaths dropping precipitously in May — and essentially going to zero by May 15.
Despite the White House’s optimistic rhetoric, experts have warned that the country could be living with a sizable covid-19 case load for some time.
“We don’t have the testing. We don’t have the contract tracing. We can’t detect a rebound. It’s a really problematic place to be. This is not where we want to be,” said Jeffrey Shaman, one of the country’s leading epidemiologists at Columbia University.
What is especially concerning, Shaman said, is that there is a two-week lag between actions such as reopening and detection of its effects because of the delay in symptoms and hospitalization.
Researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota issued a report Thursday that suggested the pandemic would last 18 to 24 months, reappearing in waves of varying intensity.
On Sunday, Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said efforts to mitigate the spread of the virus had helped but not succeeded in quelling its spread. He said on CBS’s Face the Nation that the United States faces the possibility of “persistent spread” of the virus that could spark a significant outbreak at any time if schools and workplaces “let down their guard.”
“While mitigation didn’t fail, I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t work as well as we expected. We expected that we would start seeing more significant declines in new cases and deaths around the nation at this point, and we’re just not seeing that,” Gottlieb said.
The largest number of deaths in the United States in a single day since the pandemic began occurred on April 21, when 2,874 people died. (A total of 6,147 deaths were reported on April 14, but they included New York City adding more than 3,000 probable deaths to the daily total.)
To date, 1.16 million people have been infected by the coronavirus and more than 67,000 have died. Both figures are widely believed to undercount the actual totals.