The influential coronavirus model at the University of Washington is projecting 192,000 people will die from coronavirus in the US between now and May 1, bringing the total to 566,720 deaths by May 1.
That’s the same number the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projected in its last estimate, released December 23. The group says more rapid vaccination efforts can bring the number down to 553,000 and universal mask use would take it down even further to 535,000.
The forecast offers some hope for the spring.
“We expect the death toll will reach 567,000 by May 1, with a likely peak at the beginning of February,” IHME said in a statement.
“Daily deaths are expected to decline steadily after the peak, reaching below 500 a day sometime in April due to seasonality and the scale-up of vaccination. By May 1, some states may be close to herd immunity.”
The model assumes that 22% of the US population has been infected with the virus.
“Despite huge reporting lags around the holidays leading to false declines in the last week of December and subsequent overestimated increases, it appears that there are two distinct groups of states. In most of the coastal states, cases, hospitalizations, and deaths are increasing, while the epidemic is trending down in much of the Midwest,” the IHME said.
But new variants could change projections. Earlier Friday, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned a new variant called B. 1.1.7, first seen in Britain, could worsen the pandemic.
“If more transmissible variants spread in the US in the coming weeks, the peak could be delayed by weeks and the death toll substantially increased,” IHME said.
Either way, the worst is yet to come.
“Hospitals in many states will be under severe stress in the next four weeks. Expanding mask use, timely reintroduction of some social distancing mandates, and more rapid scale-up of vaccination remain the best options for reducing the death toll.”
The IHME team estimates 76% of Americans always wear a mask when leaving home.
“We expect that 141 million people will be vaccinated by May 1. With faster scale-up, the number vaccinated could reach 179 million people,” the IHME said.
“Daily deaths will peak at 3,680 on February 1, 2021,” IHME said. “Daily deaths are estimated to be well below 500 a day in the month of April. By May 1, 2021, we project that 37,800 lives will be saved by the projected vaccine rollout.”