A number of statistical models now suggest that millions of Americans will be infected with the COVID-19 coronavirus and that the death toll could be much higher than experts had previously thought — if action isn’t taken.
The Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has come up with a worst-case scenario model that predicts 160 to 210 million Americans getting coronavirus in a one-year period, with 200,000 to 1.7 million deaths, according to The Hill.
Up to 21 million people could need hospitalization under this model, which could stress the current hospital system that is set up for no more than 925,000 beds at any given time.
The modeling doesn’t take into account any “social distancing” efforts, which have swept through the U.S. this week as schools closed and events were canceled.
Social distancing to slow spread
Social distancing could significantly lower the number of infections as well as those needing hospitalization, according to The Hill.
Even if millions end up infected despite social distancing, it could slow the spread, giving hospitals time to handle the load as small percentages of those infected need care.
The CDC readily admits that it doesn’t have all the answers and that it doesn’t have much experience predicting pandemics because they don’t happen every year like the flu, for instance.
“That’s the part that I think is going to be the most challenging,” said CDC machine learning head Roni Rosenfeld, “because machine-learning systems, in their nature, learn from examples.”
Testing may affect predictions
One problem with predictive models so far is that they depend on high levels of testing. In the U.S., testing has been sporadic and slow, with fewer people being tested because of a lack of availability of tests.
Test-makers are now ramping up production and supply so that more Americans can be tested, which could increase numbers of confirmed cases but may also give a more accurate percentage of how many are actually dying from coronavirus.
Trump declares national emergency
In a press conference on Friday, President Donald Trump declared a national emergency to “unleash the full power of the federal government” in the effort to mitigate the impact of the coronavirus and urged states and hospitals to implement their own emergency plans as well.
The president also addressed testing, saying the government is taking steps to fast-track the development and production of tests, as well as setting up drive-through testing locations in critical areas.