The researcher behind the influential model the White House often cites when talking about projected novel coronavirus cases told CNN’s Don Lemon on Tuesday that a decision by states to reopen will increase US deaths.
Dr. Chris Murray said his model now projects 147,000 deaths in the US by August. That projection is up 10,000 deaths from two days ago and more than double what was projected two weeks ago.
“We originally had thought that people would go the distance, keep social distance in place right until the end of May, bring the number of those cases down to a very low level and then we could have transitioned to managing that number of cases through testing and contact tracing and isolation, but what’s happened is states have relaxed early, people have heard the message,” Murray said.
Murray is the director of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation. He’s seeing more people gathering in groups, like they did in his neighborhood for Mother’s Day he said, and with that mingling comes new cases.
“And that’s playing out in the projections, unfortunately,” Murray said. The numbers could increase even more as additional states loosen stay-at-home mandates, he added.
Death numbers are slowly declining, but each additional interaction brings greater risk of transmission. Murray said he hopes testing will increase, but additional testing is already accounted for in their model.
“We may go from having this long, slow, steady decline (to exponential growth),” Murray said, warning cases could potentially double every 10 days. “That’s the real risk.”
The wild card, he said, could be warmer temperatures. Flu cases decline in the summer, but with the novel coronavirus, scientists don’t know if that will happen.
“That’s the thing about a new pandemic, we just don’t know everything,” Murray said.