Is White House's apocalyptic 240,000 coronavirus death toll accurate?

Is the White House’s 240,000 virus death toll estimate accurate? Trump advisers and disease experts voice doubt about the terrifying projection – with one saying it could be less than 100,000

  • President’s top advisors have expressed doubts about the accuracy of the White House’s forecast US death toll of 240,000 from coronavirus, sources said 
  • Columbia Uni’s Jeffrey Shaman said it’s impossible to predict using his work
  • He predicts the death toll will be less than 100,000 
  • Administration officials said the stark forecasts could have been a tactic to convince the president to take the pandemic seriously 
  • The White House made the shock prediction Tuesday that there will be between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the US if the nation continues on its trajectory 

Donald Trump’s top advisors have expressed doubts about the accuracy of the White House’s apocalyptic forecast that 240,000 Americans will die from the coronavirus pandemic, sources have said.  

As the US death reached 6,056 Thursday and the nation’s healthcare system buckles under the crisis, administration officials said the stark forecasts could have been a tactic to warn the president he needs to act now. 

The White House made the shock prediction Tuesday that there will be between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the US if the nation continues on its trajectory and current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

Trump said the estimates were based on data ‘that has been, I think, brilliantly put together.’

Some of Donald Trump’s top advisors have expressed doubts about the accuracy of the White House’s apocalyptic forecast that 240,000 Americans will die from the coronavirus pandemic, sources have said. The US death reached 6,056 Thursday

The figures place the US on track for a historic disaster, with more Americans dying from the pandemic than the Vietnam War. 

However, some of the president’s top advisors are baffled by the figures which have led to fierce debates within the Trump administration, according to three anonymous White House officials. 

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’s top medical expert on the pandemic and a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, cast doubt on the figures during a task force meeting this week, they told The Washington Post.

‘I’ve looked at all the models. I’ve spent a lot of time on the models. They don’t tell you anything,’ Fauci said.

‘You can’t really rely upon models.’ 

Some administration officials said the stark forecasts could have been a tactic to warn the president he needs to act now after he has been accused of repeatedly not taking the pandemic seriously

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the US’s top medical expert on the pandemic and a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, cast doubt on the figures during a task force meeting this week, sources told The Washington Post

The White House has kept quiet over the numbers, even as far as refusing to explain how they were calculated or providing the underlying data behind the shock statistics.   

Deborah Birx, coordinator of the coronavirus task force, said Tuesday the figures were based on five or six modelers, including from Imperial College in Britain and Harvard, Columbia and Northeastern universities. 

‘It was their models that created the ability to see what these mitigations could do, how steeply they could depress the curve,’ Birx said.

She previously said the task force was reviewing the work of 12 models. 

‘Then we went back to the drawing board over the last week or two, and worked from the ground up, utilizing actual reporting of cases,’ Birx said. 

Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said his own work on coronavirus, which was used by the White House to reach its figures, could not be used to predict as far ahead as the total death toll

‘It’s the way we built the HIV model, the TB model, the malaria model. And when we finished, the other group that was working in parallel – which we didn’t know about,’ referring to the IHME group. 

But medical experts whose models were used to arrive at the estimates have now spoken out, raising questions over where the figures have come from. 

Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said his own work on coronavirus cited by the White House could not be used to predict as far ahead as the total death toll.

‘We don’t have a sense of what’s going on in the here and now, and we don’t know what people will do in the future,’ he told the Post. 

‘We don’t know if the virus is seasonal.’

Shaman said he believes the death toll could be less than the forecast: ‘I think we can come in under 100,000 deaths. I do. The jury is not yet in on this.’

Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist and the director of Harvard University’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, who also contributed his model to the White house, said the numbers have been rushed. 

‘They contacted us, I think, on a Tuesday a week ago, and asked for answers and feedback by Thursday, basically 24 hours,’ he said. 

‘My initial response was we can’t do it that fast. But we ended up providing them some numbers responding to very specific scenarios.’  

Imperial College and the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at University of Washington (IHME) models predict the closest figures to those dished out by the White House. 

Imperial College estimated there could be as many as 2.2 million US deaths if no action was taken to slow the spread, 1.1 million deaths if moderate mitigation was adopted, and an unspecified number of deaths if drastic measures were taken. 

This tallies with the White House’s worst-case scenario of 1.5 million to 2.2 million deaths if Americans and the government does nothing to slow the spread.

IHME estimated US deaths will lie between 38,000 and 162,000 if every state issues a lockdown and stays on lockdown until the summer. 

Christopher Murray, the head of the IHME group, told the Post that the two models are not comparable.

‘The reason we created our model is to help hospitals plan. How many beds you’ll need, how many ventilators, when the peak is likely coming,’ Murray said.

The purpose of Imperial’s model ‘is to make people realize government intervention is crucial and what would happen without that,’ he said.

The White House prediction also failed to specify a timescale for the death toll, other experts told the Post.         

However administration officials said the shock numbers were plucked for the benefit of the president, after he has long dismissed the seriousness of the mounting crisis.

The dramatic Imperial figures of 2.2 million deaths were used to convince Trump to take the pandemic seriously, officials said.

And the official figures of 100,000 to 240,000 deaths swayed him to abandon his plans to reopen the US for Easter on April 12 and ensured he extended restrictions for another 30 days, they said.  

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