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UW model cited by White House now projects 134K US COVID-19 deaths by August

The model from the University of Washington has nearly doubled the estimated number of coronavirus deaths it was projecting just last week.

WASHINGTON — A key coronavirus model, that's been cited by the White House, has nearly doubled its projection for how many people in the U.S. may die from coronavirus during this first wave of cases. 

The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation said on Monday it is now projecting 134,475 COVID-19 deaths by August 4, with an estimated range of 95,092 to 242,890. 

The latest numbers are nearly double a previous prediction from just last week of 72,000 deaths by the same time. 

The researchers explained the revised projection is due in part to rising mobility in most states and the easing of social distancing measures expected in the next couple weeks.

Dr. Christopher Murray, the director of IHME, told reporters on a call that the primary reason for the increase is many states’ “premature relaxation of social distancing,” according to Politico. He also explained that the model is now including data from major cell phone providers which shows more Americans are going out in public.

“In each state, the evolution of the epidemic depends on the balance between relaxed social distancing, increasing temperature, and rising rates of testing and contact tracing,” Murray said in a statement. “We expect that the epidemic in many states will now extend through the summer.”  

Murray added that they believe the effects warmer weather will have on transmission are "important, yet minimal." 

"As we move into summer and temperatures rise, we will learn more and will revise our projections if it is statistically relevant,” Murray said.  

Credit: University of Washington
A revised model from the University of Washington now projects more than 134,000 deaths in the U.S. by August 4, 2020.

On March 31, Dr. Deborah Birx said during a White House coronavirus task force press briefing that they had been relying on the University of Washington model, which at the time projected anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. if social distancing was maintained. 

During a virtual town hall Sunday night, President Donald Trump increased his projection for the total U.S. death toll to as many as 100,000 — up from the 60,000 figure he suggested just a few weeks ago. More than 68,000 Americans are confirmed dead from the virus, according to a Johns Hopkins database. 

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“Look, we’re going to lose anywhere from 75,000, 80,000 to 100,000 people,” Trump said. “That’s a horrible thing. We shouldn’t lose one person out of this. This should have been stopped in China.”

The University of Washington model also cuts off before Fall, when many expect there to be another potential wave of coronavirus cases in the U.S. 

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As of Tuesday morning, there were more than 1.1 million confirmed COVID-19 cases in the US and nearly 69,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins data.

For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia and death.