On March 31, the White House coordinator for the coronavirus task force gave a somber projection of between 100,00 and 240,000 dead Americans as a result of the pandemic.
Dr. Deborah Birx said that even with strict social distancing and a shuttered economy, the best we could hope for is 100,000 fatal cases of the coronavirus.
But today, Dr. Anthony Fauci revised that estimate considerably downward. Fauci now believes — based on two respected models — that the U.S. death toll will be around 60,000.
At a White House news conference on Wednesday, Birx said that two prominent models for U.S. mortality from the Covid-19 pandemic — Covid Act Now and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington — had both lowered their fatality projections based on widespread social distancing efforts.
Trump didn’t endorse social distancing until March 16, after many ordinary Americans had already taken up the practices themselves out of fear for the virus. It isn’t clear that the country will obey him if he urges Americans to abandon the behaviors before the outbreak has abated.
“The country” will go back to work if Trump gives the all-clear. It’s not a question of “obeying” or disobeying the president. For most, it’s a matter of survival.
That said, in an interview with CBS, Dr. Fauci was considerably more optimistic than he has been in the past.
Separately, Fauci said in a CBS News interview on Thursday that he sees the U.S. making progress toward a return to normal life in the near future. Federal social-distancing recommendations extend to April 30.
“Hopefully, by the time we get to the summer, we will have taken many steps in that direction,” he said. But he cautioned that different areas of the U.S. may see the outbreak peak at different times, which may require a range of timetables.
Fauci was asked if he can envision Americans returning to beaches, celebrations, and other normal seasonal activities in the summer.
“Yes,” he said, “if we do the things that we need to do to prevent the resurgence.”
As we’ve found with global warming predictions, models are only as good as the information inputted. The March 31 projections were based on factors that were true at that time. But those factors have changed and now predict a different trajectory for the disease.
Sixty thousand dead is still five times higher than the death toll for the flu and in a much shorter period of time. Until there is an effective vaccine, Americans will still be cautious about some of their social interactions.
Speaking as members of a very vulnerable population, most of the precautions Sue and I have been taking will continue until the vaccine arrives. But it’s welcome news that perhaps sooner than we hoped, we can start rebuilding the economy and picking up life where we left off.