White House officials on Tuesday gave the public an inside look at the data and models experts are using to recommend extending stringent social distancing guidelines to April 30, as President Trump announced on Sunday.
The federal guidelines recommend against group gatherings larger than 10 and urge older people and anyone with existing health problems to stay home. People are urged to work at home when possible and avoid restaurants, bars, non-essential travel, and shopping trips.
In the first slide presented in the Tuesday evening briefing, Dr. Deborah Birx, White House coronavirus response coordinator, showed a model that predicted 100,000 to 240,000 people in the United States would die after catching the virus. That prediction took mitigation steps like social distancing into consideration.
But without any intervention, according to the model, between 1.5 million and 2.2 million Americans could die from the virus.
The slide was based off models from about a half-dozen international and domestic modelers “from Harvard, Columbia, Northeastern, and Imperial,” Birx said.
“It was their models that created the ability to see what these mitigations could do, how steeply they could depress the curve from that giant blue mountain down to that more stippled area,” she said.
Another slide — a University of Washington model — showed the timing of the peak crush of virus deaths, with the peak hitting in mid- to late-April, dropping off through May, and decreasing substantially by July and August.
“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Trump said. “We’re going to go through a very tough two weeks.”
“Our hope is to get that number down as far as we possibly can,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, speaking about the 100,000 death rate prediction. “We’re going to do everything we can to get it even significantly below that.”
Birx said that the gray shaded cloud around the line, called the “confidence interval,” is where the US has the ability to push the death rate down.
“We have a large confidence interval, and are trying to move that gray down tighter and below the dotted line,” she said.
Fauci said that although measures like social distancing will work, the next few weeks will be painful.
“We’re going to continue to see things go up,” Fauci said. “We cannot be discouraged by that, because the mitigation is actually working and will work.”
Fauci said by extending social distancing guidelines for another 30 days, America is putting its foot on the accelerator in terms of slowing the spread.
“The 15 days that we had of mitigation clearly have had an effect,” Fauci said. “Let’s all pull together and make sure as we look forward to the next 30 days, we do it with all the intensity and force that we can.”
Birx said the model was based “on experience around the globe with this particular virus.”
In a slide that Birx said “gives us great hope,” she showed a line graph that depicted the cumulative cases per 100,000 in some of the states hardest hit — New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Washington state, and California — and noted that Washington and California were beginning to slow the spread.
“They put in strong mitigation and testing, and you can see what the result in Washington state and California is,” she said.
However, the next slide Birx used as a caution, showing a similar line graph that included all US states.
“Our goal over the next 30 days is to ensure the states you see, the 48 across the bottom, maintain this lower level of new cases, with the hope we don’t have significant outbreaks in other states and other metro areas,” Birx said.
She also pointed to a graphic of cases in Italy, which appears to show the downward trend in new cases as that country enters their fourth week of “full mitigation.”
“You can see they’re beginning to turn the corner in new cases,” she said, adding that it shows “what is possible as we work together as a community, as a country, to change the course of this pandemic together.”
Fauci said Italy making “the turn around the curve” came in a “step-wise fashion.”
“When the increase in new cases begins to level off, the secondary effect is less hospitalizations, the next effect is less intensive care, and the next effect is less deaths,” he said. “The deaths and intensive care and hospitalizations always lag behind that early indication that there are less new cases per day, the way you saw in Italy, and the way we’re. . . seeing little inklings of this right now in New York.”
Material from the Associated Press was used in this report.