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Officials: National virus deaths could be from 100,000 to 240,000

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator,

Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaks Tuesday's news briefing at the White House. Credit: AP / Alex Brandon

WASHINGTON — The White House Coronavirus Task Force on Tuesday presented a sobering forecast of the soaring number of COVID-19 deaths expected nationwide — projecting 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the United States if current social distancing restrictions remain in place.

Warning of a “very painful” two weeks, President Donald Trump noted that “New York is having a much harder time,” as projections showed the state dramatically outpacing the nation in the number of expected fatalities.

Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, speaking at the task force’s daily briefing, said the White House was “looking at” data from a model formulated by the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. That model projects that by Aug. 4, if social distancing conditions remain the same, some 15,800 New Yorkers will have succumbed to the virus.

“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Trump said in a somber tone. “We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks … this is going to be a very painful, very very painful two weeks.”

Tuesday’s briefing was the first time that the task force offered fatality projections and marked a change in tone from Trump, who had downplayed the threat of the virus in January, telling reporters “one day it’s like a miracle — it will disappear.”

Nationally, the University of Washington model predicts that the country will hit its daily fatality peak on April 15, with the number of deaths rising to more than 2,200-a-day by then. The model suggests the number of deaths will climb from about 4,000 at the start of April to almost 60,000 by the end of the month.

That model predicts that New York will hit its apex of daily fatalities on April 10, when the number of daily deaths is expected to peak at 827 before gradually decreasing. By April 10, the model projects about 8,100 New Yorkers will have died from the disease. By Aug 4, the model projects about 15,800 New Yorkers will have died from it.

Birx and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned Americans that the number of fatalities could rise if the public does not heed the federal government’s social distancing guidelines, which were extended to April 30.

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The guidelines, which encourage Americans to work from home and not gather in groups larger than 10 people, were initially set to expire on Tuesday.

“I know it is stressful to follow the guidelines, but it’s more stressful and more difficult to the soldiers on the front line,” Birx said.

Asked if Americans should brace for 100,000 coronavirus-related deaths, Fauci replied: “As sobering a number as that is, we should be prepared for it,” but he noted that “the more we push mitigation the less likelihood it will be that number.”

Trump called the social distancing measures “a matter of life and death” that could shape social practices beyond the current crisis.

"I wouldn't be surprised to see this going on long into the future,” Trump said.

Fauci said the steady climb in numbers was not an indication that current restrictions were not working, and pressed Americans to continue following the state and federal guidelines.

“We’re going to continue to see things go up,” Fauci said. “We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working, and will work.”

Birx said initial models predicted that the United States faced the prospect of 1.5 million to 2.2 million deaths if there was no intervention by the government to stop the spread.

“Without the continuation” of the current federal guidelines for the next 30 days “anything could change,” Birx said.

The officials delivered their sobering projections to Americans on a day that the national death count moved past 3,000 individuals. In New York, Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo said the state experienced 332 new deaths on Monday, pushing the state’s death total to 1,550 New Yorkers.

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