WASHINGTON — A draft government report projects COVID-19 cases will surge to about 200,000 per day by June 1, a staggering jump that would be accompanied by more than 3,000 deaths each day.

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Nurse practitioner Capri Reese talks to a patient and holds her hand while a doctor administers an IV at Roseland Community Hospital in Chicago last month. In recent days, experts following the course of the pandemic in the United States have begun to predict that the country will have a sizable COVID-19 case load for some time. Ashlee Rezin Garcia/Chicago Sun-Times via Associated Press

The document predicts a sharp increase in both cases and deaths beginning about May 14, according to a copy shared with The Washington Post.

The forecast stops at June 1, but it shows daily cases and deaths on an upward trajectory at that point.

The White House and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention quickly disavowed the report, though the slides carry the CDC’s logo. The creator of the model said the numbers are unfinished projections shown to the CDC as a work in progress. The work contained a wide range of possibilities, and modeling was not complete, according to Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, who created the model.

He said he didn’t know how the update was turned into a slide deck by government officials and shared with news organizations. The data was first reported by The New York Times.

“I had no role in the process by which that was presented and shown. This data was presented as an FYI to CDC … it was not in any way intended to be a forecast,” Lessler said.

Lessler insisted, however, that the numbers show how moving to reopen the country could spiral out of control. He said 100,000 cases per day by the end of the month is within the realm of possibility. Much depends on political decisions being made today.

“There are reopening scenarios where it could get out of control very quickly,” Lessler said.

It was not immediately clear whether the projections, which also carry logos of the Departments of Health and Human Services and Homeland Security, are based on increases in testing, the attempt to reopen some states, the time lag between a rise in cases and deaths or some combination of those factors.

The White House issued a statement Monday that “this is not a White House document, nor has it been presented to the Coronavirus Task Force or gone through interagency vetting. This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force, or data that the task force has analyzed.

“The President’s phased guidelines to open up America again are a scientific driven approach that the top health and infectious disease experts in the federal government agreed with. The health of the American people remains President Trump’s top priority, and that will continue as we monitor the efforts by states to ease restrictions.”

A spokeswoman for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency did not issue the projections.

The forecast is at odds with remarks made Sunday evening by President Trump, who said the United States could eventually suffer as many as 100,000 deaths. At 3,000 deaths per day and rising, the national total would quickly outstrip that number if the new report is correct. The projections were first reported by The New York Times.

A senior White House official said the document will not change the White House planning on reopening.

White House officials have been relying on other models to make decisions on reopening, including the IHME model and a “cubic model” prepared by the Council of Economic Advisers, led by Trump adviser Kevin Hassett.

People with knowledge of the “cubic model” say it currently shows deaths dropping precipitously in May – and essentially going to zero by May 15.

In recent days, experts following the course of the pandemic in the United States have begun to predict that the country would be living with a sizable COVID-19 case load for some time.

Researchers at the Center for Infectious Disesease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota issued a report Thursday that suggested the pandemic would last 18 to 24 months, reappearing in waves of varying intensity.

On Sunday, Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration, said efforts to mitigate spread of the virus had helped but not succeeded in quelling its spread. He said on CBS’s Face the Nation that the United States faces the possibility of “persistent spread” of the virus that could spark a significant outbreak at any time if schools and workplaces “let down their guard.”

“While mitigation didn’t fail, I think it’s fair to say that it didn’t work as well as we expected. We expected that we would start seeing more significant declines in new cases and deaths around the nation at this point, and we’re just not seeing that,” Gottlieb said.

The largest number of deaths in the United States in a single day since the pandemic began occurred on April 21, when 2,874 people died. (A total of 6,147 deaths were reported on April 14, but they included New York City adding more than 3,000 probable deaths to the daily total.)

To date, 1.16 million people have been infected by the coronavirus and more than 67,000 have died. Both figures are widely believed to undercount the actual totals.


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