Updated Covid models and reckless conclusions

Today’s coronavirus media nonsense begins with the Associated Press, which is one of many sources churning out stories about how America’s death toll from Covid-19 is going to soar because states are opening too quickly. “How bad will it be?” the AP article ponders. And then it throws this out:

The researchers behind a widely cited model from the University of Washington nearly doubled their projection of deaths in the U.S. to around 134,000 through early August, in large part because of the easing of state stay-at-home restrictions.

It’s true that the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics & Evaluation model did increase its projected deaths in America to 134,000 — about double what it was once projecting.

But the AP story gives the impression that the Covid-19 death rate in America is going to increase because the states are reopening. The model’s updated projections don’t chart anything of the sort.

This is a screenshot of the model’s current projection of daily deaths in the U.S. from novel coronavirus.

In other words, we’ve reached our peak and we’re going to slowly decline over the next couople of months.

It sorta paints a different picture than the snippet from the AP story, doesn’t it?

The IHME model has struggled from the beginning — constantly being updated with new data in an effort to keep up. First, it was significantly over-estimating the number of hospitalizations and deaths due to Covid-19 … and by “significantly over-estimating,” I mean it was so far off-course that it was essentially worthless. For example, it once projected that Tennessee would need 4,870 hospital beds for coronavirus patients by April 5. But on April 5, there hadn’t even been 4,870 people diagnosed with coronavirus in Tennessee — and there had only been 328 hospitalizations. It projected that 135 Tennesseans would soon die per day of coronavirus. There has never been more than 15 deaths in a day in the Volunteer State.

As the IHME model was adjusted downward in an effort to make it more accurate, it woefully under-estimated the number of deaths in America. It projected just over 60,000 deaths by the time the outbreak ended. That was always going to be too low, and now we’ve surpassed that total by greater than 10,000 deaths — not because the coronavirus outbreak is increasing in breadth or severity, but because researchers overreacted to their woeful miscalculations.

As a result, the IHME model is essentially pointless to even keep up with at this point, after once being cited heavily at the highest levels of government (most notably, by Dr. Deborah Birx, who is coordinating the White House’s coronavirus response, but also by state governments, including Tennessee’s).

Be that as it may, the increased number of deaths to 134,000 on the IHME projections is not due to a surge of new deaths, as the AP story seems to suggest. The model is clearly projecting a steady — if perhaps slower than we’d like — decline in the number of daily deaths from now through much of the summer months.

Ben Garrett

Ben Garrett is a journalist from East Tennessee. He is publisher of the Independent Herald, a weekly newspaper serving the Big South Fork region of the Cumberland Plateau, with a sideline in website development and digital marketing. He is also an erstwhile blogger.

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