At a coronavirus briefing earlier this week, the White House task force presented their projections on the total number of deaths that they say are likely to occur in the U.S. because of the pandemic: between 100,000 to 240,000 will likely die, they project, even with the current mitigation measures. But, as reported by The Washington Post, some experts and Trump advisers “doubt” the projection, pushing back not as much on the numbers but how exactly the task force arrived at them.
“Leading disease forecasters, whose research the White House used to conclude that 100,000 to 240,000 people will die nationwide from the coronavirus, were mystified when they saw the administration’s projection this week,” the Post reported Thursday. “The experts said they don’t challenge the numbers’ validity but said they don’t know how the White House arrived at them.” So far, the Post reports, the team has “not provided the underlying data so others can assess its reliability, and have not provided long-term strategies to lower that death count.”
And it’s not just outside experts pushing back; some of Trump’s own advisers “have expressed doubts about the estimate,” the Post reports, citing three unnamed White House officials. “There have been fierce debates inside the White House about its accuracy.”
During a recent task force meeting, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and one of the team’s leading voices, called into question modeling projections in general, according to the Post’s sources.
“I’ve looked at all the models. I’ve spent a lot of time on the models. They don’t tell you anything. You can’t really rely upon models,” Dr. Fauci told other task force members this week, according to two officials with direct knowledge of the exchange.
The dire predictions of models are the reason behind President Trump extending the advisement on extreme social-distancing measures that have brought the American economy to a screeching halt and have already resulted in nearly 10 million Americans filing for unemployment in a span of just two weeks — a devastating and historic number. The previous high for jobless claims in a week in the history of the country was 695,000 back in 1982.
Dr. Birx, who’s serving as coordinator of the task force, explained in a recent briefing that the team has looked at about a dozen different models to help them produce their own projections. The task force looked at several models, compared them to “actual reporting of cases,” and then came up with their best estimates, she explained at the briefing Sunday.
According to the Post, one of the two most influential of the models guiding the administration’s decisions is the famous Imperial College study, which included the jaw-dropping projection that 2.2 million Americans would die if the virus were allowed to spread unchecked. That study also projected that as many as 500,000 would die in the U.K., but now projects that 20,000 or far fewer will die in the country because of the social-distancing measures put in place.
The second of the two most influential models in guiding the administration’s decisions appears to be the study produced by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at University of Washington (IHME). “The IHME model initially that estimated deaths through this summer would total 38,000 to 162,000 – a lower projection than many others and beneath the White House’s own estimate,” the Post explains.
At the briefing Tuesday, Dr. Birx showed two projections: the death toll without mitigation (1.5 to 2.2 million deaths) and the death toll with their current mitigation strategy (100,000 to 240,000 deaths). The former appears to have been drawn from the Imperial College’s dire projection and the latter appears to have been heavily influenced by the IHME model.
Related: Dr. Fauci: 10 Million Job Losses ‘Inconvenient’ But ‘We Just Have To Do It’