An influential coronavirus model has updated its forecast to predict over 630,000 deaths from the virus in the U.S. by the start of June, but researchers warned that increased spread of new variants could send the death toll higher.
If the estimate from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation plays out, it would mean the U.S. will add about 175,000 more fatalities over the next roughly 120 days.
But the researchers behind the model raised alarm over recent data that indicated the variant first found in South Africa infected participants who had prior COVID-19 infections.
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They said that the finding could mean that “herd immunity is only variant-specific,” and if the data is confirmed in other vaccines, it would mean the model’s “worse scenario is likely too optimistic,” researchers wrote in a brief.
The model’s worst case scenario, which assumes vaccinated people will resume travel as normal, predicts over 700,000 total deaths by the start of June. Travel returning to near normal among the vaccinated could drive daily deaths to increase in April and May across the following 16 states and Washington, D.C.: Arizona, California, Connecticut, Delaware, Florida, Hawaii, Maine, Massachusetts, New Mexico, New York, North Carolina, Oregon, Rhode Island, Vermont, Virginia and West Virginia.
“The best strategies to manage this period of the pandemic are rapid scale-up of vaccination, continued and expanded mask-wearing, and concerted efforts to avoid rebound mobility in the vaccinated,” the researchers wrote.
If virtually all Americans wore masks in public, 44,000 American lives would be saved by June, according to the model, which estimates current mask use to be at a rate of 77%.
The U.S. reports over 26.8 million cases of the virus and nearly 456,000 deaths, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.