News and Commentary

Influential Coronavirus Tracking Model Shows Steep Decline In Death, Bed Shortage Projections
Medical workers wearing protective face masks and full body outfits walk outside the emergency department of the 12 de Octubre hospital in Madrid, Spain, on Monday, March 30, 2020. Spain suffered its deadliest day yet of the coronavirus outbreak this weekend as Prime Minister Pedro Sanchez convened an emergency cabinet meeting to try to chart a way out of the crisis rapidly engulfing the nation. Photographer: Paul Hanna/Bloomberg via Getty Images
Photographer: Paul Hanna/Bloomberg via Getty Images

An influential prediction model, referenced routinely by White House coronavirus task for leader Dr. Deborah Birx, has been updated to reflect a major change in death and bed shortage projections, according to the Associated Press.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation University of Washington’s School of Medicine now says they’re COVID-19 projection model shows a sharp decline in anticipated deaths, anticipated bed shortages, and even anticipated infections — a change made as new data about the virus’ real-world spread becomes available and analysts are able to monitor epicenters, like New York City, in real time.

“Updated COVID-19 estimates find that need for hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators needed to deal with the COVID-19 epidemic are less than previously estimated,” the AP reports, adding that IHME used data from European outbreaks to better understand how patients are selected for intensive care units and how long most coronavirus-related ICU stays last.

“As we obtain more data and more precise data, the forecasts we at IHME created have become more accurate,” the IHME’s president told the outlet “And these projections are vital to health planners, policymakers, and anyone else associated with caring for those affected by and infected with the coronavirus.”

The changes take into account efforts to “flatten the curve” in places like Seattle, Washington — once a site of a major outbreak — and treatment data from New York City, where coronavirus-related deaths appear to be declining, as do coronavirus-related hospital admissions.

IHME’s projects are, by no means, rosy, however: “IHME forecasts 81,766 deaths, with a range between 49,431 and 136,401. The estimated peak day, the modeling indicated, is April 16, with a projected 3,130 deaths nationwide on that day.”

That still represents a sharp and noticeably decline compared to previous estimates.

The estimates also contain some good news for those who may contract COVID-19: hospital beds and ventilators may be more available than previously thought, and hospital stays may be shorter. The IHME does caution, though, that hospital admissions and length-of-stay metrics are affected by triage procedures, which could become more aggressive if hospitals become overwhelmed.

IHME is careful to note that estimates are subject to change, particularly if those variables that drove the estimates down suddenly become irrelevant.

“As we noted previously, the trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions,” IHME’s director noted. “Our projections are strengthened by the new downturns in more regions. This is evidence that social distancing is crucial. Our forecasts assume that social distancing remains in place until the end of May.”

There’s no guarantee that coronavirus-related “lockdown” can remain in place until the end of May without severe economic consequences, but “social distancing” is still possible if the White House and affected states take a measured approach to re-opening those businesses deeply affected by coronavirus-related closures.

The best case-scenario, IHME notes, is if a treatment for coronavirus — either a generally accepted course of medication or a vaccine — becomes widely available soon, as does a quick coronavirus test and a way to screen for coronavirus-related antibodies.

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