COVID-19: New Projections Put Coronavirus Death Toll at 300,000 by 2021

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Getty An emergency overflow tent outside El Paso, Texas' Providence Hospital Memorial Campus emergency room. The photo was taken on November 15, 2020.

Coronavirus death toll projections for the U.S. from both the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), as well as the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), show an alarming rise by the end of 2020 and even into the spring of 2021.

In December, the U.S. hit the devastating milestone of more than 250,000 dead, which goes beyond the estimates NPR reported National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony S. Fauci warning about in March.

Many are hoping the coronavirus vaccines in development from Pfizer and Moderna will be able to reduce the death tolls, yet they are not expected to be widely available until February or March, according to what Fauci told USA Today’s California paper, The Desert Sun.

New Projections Estimate the Death Toll Could Nearly Double by April 2021

An “ensemble forecast” from the CDC, based on November 16 data, suggests that the U.S. could see between 276,000 and 298,000 deaths from COVID-19 by the week of December 12, 2020.

Texas, Pennsylvania, New York, Michigan, New Jersey, Georgia, Florida, Illinois and Indiana are predicted to have some of the highest total death tolls up to (and after) December 15, according to the CDC’s state projections. You can see how your state is projected to do by viewing the graphs here.

A model from the IHME shows that, based on the current trajectory of the country, the coronavirus death toll is projected to be 470,974 by March of 2021. If a national mask mandate is implemented, that number drops to 405,984 deaths, and if all restrictions are eased, that number jumps to 658,414 deaths.

As The Hill reported, the projections are based on past and current data, but they “are only estimates and may not actually be very good at projecting far into the future.”

The holiday season is expected to be a particularly dangerous time when health experts predict cases will rise, due to the travel and gatherings which are expected to take place around Thanksgiving and Christmas. According to The Hill, a COVID-19 incident manager at the CDC, Henry Walke gave a strong warning against members of the public avoid traveling to other households. “As we’re seeing this sort of exponential growth in cases, and the opportunity to translocate disease or infection from one part of the country to another, it leads to our recommendation to avoid travel at this time,” he said.

With projections showing that nationwide masking will help keep the death toll lower, Fauci has continued to advocate for them, saying “We need some fundamental public health measures that everyone should be adhering to, not a disjointed, ‘One state says one thing, the other state says another thing,’” The Hill reported.

Could a Vaccine Reduce the Number of Projected Deaths?

According to The New York Times, the front-running vaccines belonging to the companies of Moderna and Pfizer are planning to apply for emergency authorization from the Food and Drug Administration, which would allow them to give doses of the vaccine to the public.

Even if that authorization comes before the end of the year, however, the distribution methods required for the vaccine and the expected targets of vaccination mean the majority of the public likely won’t receive the vaccine until the spring.

The New York Times reported that the temperatures at which the vaccine must be stored to remain viable, minus 4 degrees Fahrenheit for Moderna and minus 94 Fahrenheit for Pfizer, could make vaccine distribution tricky. According to The Times, Moderna researchers said that the vaccine could last 12 hours at room temperatures.

Even once widespread, effective distribution methods are developed to help transport the vaccine, only certain segments of the population will receive the vaccine first, according to what Fauci told The Desert Sun. According to the paper, “Fauci said frontline health care workers are expected to receive their first of two vaccine doses by the end of December or early January. Then, high-risk elderly people, assuming the vaccine works well in them, are likely to be the next to receive the vaccine.”

Fauci went on to say that the general population will likely receive the first doses of the vaccine in April and through July, The Desert Sun reported. After that, he said people can expect to see a return to pre-pandemic normalcy. “Then you can start talking about this umbrella or blanket of protection on society that would diminish dramatically the risk of a person being exposed or even being infected. When so many people are protected, that’s when you get into the real herd immunity,” he said, according to The Desert Sun.

Therefore, while the vaccine is expected to dramatically reduce infections and fatalities, it won’t be able to do so until well past the dates projected.

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