Two White House health experts say that 100,000 to 200,000 Americans could die from the new coronavirus outbreak and millions could be infected, based on current projections.
But Dr. Anthony Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx — the lead health experts on the White House’s coronavirus task force — said those estimates are on the lower end and would require a full commitment from all Americans to take part in social distancing.
In an interview with Today, Birx said that if Americans “do everything perfectly” and follow strict stay-at-home orders, the 100,000 to 200,000 estimate is likely.
Birx added that those numbers are not a surprise, given the increase in the number of U.S. deaths since the first on Feb. 29. They are also in line with estimates given by the Centers for Disease Control in February.
“I think everyone understands now that you can go from five to 50 to 500 to 5,000 cases very quickly,” she said. There are currently at least 144,000 cases in the U.S., and more than 2,500 people have died as of Monday.
Fauci said on CNN that these estimates are just possibilities. The crisis is “such a moving target that you could so easily be wrong and mislead people,” he said, adding that the rates of infections and deaths across the country are worrisome.
“I don’t want to see it, I’d like to avoid it, but I wouldn’t be surprised if we saw 100,000 deaths,” Fauci said. “We’ve got a serious problem in New York, we’ve got a serious problem in New Orleans and we’re going to have serious problems in other areas.”
Fauci and Birx also discussed worst-case scenario numbers, in which 1 to 2 million Americans could die from COVID-19. However, Fauci said that those numbers would be “almost certainly off the chart,” and that, thanks to social distancing efforts so far, “now it’s not impossible, but very, very unlikely.”
On March 26, the U.S. officially surpassed all other countries worldwide with the most confirmed cases of COVID-19. As of Monday, the U.S. has around 40,000 more cases than the next most-infected country, Italy.
President Donald Trump had previously said that he wanted to reopen the U.S. economy and ease restrictions by Easter, April 12. He recanted on Sunday night, saying that the country would stay under social distancing guidelines until at least April 30, after health experts said that an April 12 date would be too soon to lift restrictions.
Fauci said that the U.S. could not ease up until after the number of new infections begins to decline — and that it is not up to lawmakers.
“The virus itself determines that timetable,” he said.
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