2 Weeks of Death and Hope: Experts Predict Peak in Deaths, Then Light at the End of the Tunnel
Remaining committed to social distancing efforts will be crucial in turning the tide of the coronavirus crisis, models and medical experts say.
UPDATE: As of Wednesday, April 8, The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation models predict a peak in deaths-per-day on April 12, with 2,212 deaths, and fewer deaths overall (60,415) than previously estimated.
The White House Coronavirus Task Force delivered a sobering prediction Sunday, warning that COVID-19 cases and deaths would peak over the next two weeks. But in a heartening juxtaposition, they also promised hope.
“In the days ahead, America will endure the peak of this terrible pandemic,” President Trump said Sunday night. “But we see the light at the end of the tunnel. … And hopefully, in the not-too-distant future, we’ll be very proud of the job we did.”
‘Hardest and Saddest Week’
Appearing on Fox News Sunday, U.S. Surgeon General Jerome Adams said, “This is going to be the hardest and the saddest week of most Americans’ lives.”
“This is our Pearl Harbor moment, our 9/11 moment,” he added. But instead of being concentrated in one place, the crisis will be nationwide.
The theme of hard days ahead repeated in Sunday night’s White House Press Briefing. According to models currently informing the White House Task Force, the U.S. will see a peak in the number of deaths-per-day on April 16.
Previously, models from The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predicted 93,531 deaths (and potentially up to 177,866), with mitigation efforts. Thanks to “a massive infusion of new data,” IHME models are now predicting 81,766 deaths. The number of deaths on the peak day, April 16, increased, however. Just over 3,000 are now expected, up from 2,644.
Of course, models are just estimations, and change daily as new data from around the world comes in. But one thing experts seem certain of is that the next two weeks will be difficult as hospitalizations, demand for medical equipment, and deaths crest.
Asked how he could be talking about “glimmers of hope and stabilization” in light of Adams’ warning, Trump said the two messages aren’t “so different.”
“I think we all know that we have to reach a certain point, and that point is going to be a horrific point in terms of death,” he said. “But it’s also a point at which things are going to start changing.”
White House health adviser Dr. Anthony Fauci agreed. “It seems to be inherently contradictory, but it really isn’t,” he said. He pointed out that the current landscape is “a reflection of what happened two and a half weeks ago.”
“What you’re hearing about the potential light at the end of the tunnel doesn’t take away from the fact that tomorrow or the next day is going to look really bad.”
Dr. Deborah Birx, response coordinator for the White House task force, said we can be encouraged by looking at Italy and Spain, “where we see, finally, new cases and deaths declining.” She noted those two countries have had “a very similar experience to our experience.”
“The last time I was here, I wasn’t able to really tell you that Italy and Spain were coming across their apex and coming down on the other side,” she said. “They just completed four weeks of really strong mitigation. And I think that’s our word to the American people, is we can look like that.”
Don’t Ease Up on the Precautions
Everyone, including the president, highlighted the importance of mitigation and continuing social distancing. The IHME models assume continuation of current social distancing precautions through May. It also assumes that states that haven’t enacted those measures do so within the week.
Dr. Christopher Murray, Director of IHME, also emphasized the need for social distancing efforts to continue. “The trajectory of the pandemic will change — dramatically for the worse — if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions.”
“The best tool we have is mitigation,” Fauci said. “We know it worked in other countries, and we’re seeing how it’s working here. So if we really want to make sure that we don’t have these kinds of rebounds that we’re worried about, it’s mitigation, mitigation, mitigation. That’s the answer.”