The estimate would represent the equivalent of 9/11’s death toll occurring over and over again on a daily basis.
In public, President Trump has pressured states to reopen their economies. Privately, however, his administration is now projecting a steady rise in the number of coronavirus cases and deaths over the next month, according to an internal document obtained by The New York Times. The data suggests the U.S. will reach about 3,000 deaths per day on June 1.
That would be nearly double the current number of daily deaths of 1,750 per day and equal the death toll of 9/11 occurring over and over again on a daily basis. The projections, based on a model by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and translated into chart form by the Federal Emergency Management Agency, predicts roughly 200,000 new cases each day by the end of May, up from about 25,000 cases now.
The grim projections come as several states have begun lifting restrictions and allowed certain businesses to reopen, a scenario that public health experts say is all but certain to lead to a surge in cases.
Experts have warned that rushing to reopen the economy would undo the efforts of the last two months and could lead to a collapse of the healthcare system, forcing doctors to ration care as the number of cases becomes unmanageable. Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, has cautioned states against reopening this quickly, telling CNN last week that these states are taking “really significant risks.”
“There’s no doubt in my mind that when you pull back mitigation, you’re going to start seeing cases crop up here and there,” he said. “If you’re not able to handle them, you’re going to see another peak, a spike, and then you almost have to turn the clock back to go back to mitigation.”
The rush to reopen comes despite the fact that more than 1.1 million Americans have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and nearly 68,000 have died. While mitigation efforts have helped slow the spread, they have not dramatically reduced the number of daily cases or deaths in recent weeks. At least 1,000 people, and sometimes more than 2,000, have died of COVID-19 every day for the past month and many regions of the country continue to see steady growth in cases.
As states like Iowa, Tennessee, and Texas have begun to reopen, they’ve also seen an increase in cases. In Texas, for example, there were more than 7,000 new cases and 200 additional deaths related to COVID-19 between April 26 and May 3. States like Indiana, Kansas, and Nebraska that plan to reopen soon have seen similar increases, the Times reported.
Scott Gottlieb, the former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration under Trump who has sounded warnings about reopening too quickly, also acknowledged that mitigation did not “work as well as we expected.”
“We expected that we would start seeing more significant declines in new cases and deaths around the nation at this point. And we’re just not seeing that,” Gottlieb said during an interview with CBS’ Face the Nation on Sunday.
Much of the nation remains under strict stay-at-home orders, but thousands of right-wing protesters, encouraged by President Trump and his allies, have held rallies across the nation, calling on governors to reopen their states. While the protesters represent a minority view—a recent AP-NORC poll found that only 12% of Americans think restrictions have gone too far—their raucous, menacing, and at times racist and anti-semitic rallies have drawn attention and put pressure on Democratic governors to reopen states like California, Michigan, and Wisconsin.
Those governors have resisted thus far and reiterated the urgency of putting public health first.
“Let me be clear: I will not be making decisions based on an arbitrary timeline or political pressure. I’m not here to play games. My number one priority is the health & safety of Michiganders, and I will continue to work tirelessly to protect both lives & livelihoods,” Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer tweeted on Friday.
Monday’s Times’ report comes just one day after President Trump himself said the number of deaths in the U.S. could reach 100,000, twice as many as he had predicted just two weeks ago.
“We’re going to lose anywhere from 75, 80 to 100,000 people,” he said Sunday during a virtual town hall on Fox News.
At the current rate of deaths, however, the U.S. could surpass 100,000 deaths sometime this month, before the nation even reaches its 3,000 deaths-per-day peak projected by the CDC.