March 30, 2020
As the United States braces for another devastating month of the coronavirus pandemic, one statistical model seeks to project the death toll and strain on hospital systems across the country.
The University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation is running live projections of the COVID-19 outbreak in each state, painting a grim picture that can fluctuate significantly from day to day.
The model was developed in response to requests from U.S. hospital systems and state governments. Its projections are subject to change each day as new data is reported across the world.
"Ultimately, these forecasts were developed to provide hospitals, health care workers, policymakers and the public with crucial information about what demands COVID-19 may place on hospital capacity and resources, so that they could begin to plan," the institute explained.
On Sunday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, conceded that the United States may see an estimated 100,000 to 200,000 deaths as a result of the coronavirus. More than 2,600 deaths had been reported across the country as of Monday afternoon.
The IHME model currently is built on the assumption that major social distancing measures will remain in effect in the U.S. until at least the end of May. The model projects peak dates for the pandemic in each state, comparing the anticipated case total to the medical system's capacity and supplies, as well as how many people likely will die.
In Pennsylvania, 53 people had died from COVID-19 as of Monday morning. Based on the current trajectory, the IHME model projects that the state will have 1,579 COVID-19 deaths by August 4. At the projected peak on April 16, the state would record 67 deaths, according to the model.
Notably, Pennsylvania's hospital system appears well-equipped to handle the surge of patients even at the peak of the pandemic, according to the model.
At the projected peak on April 15, Pennsylvania is expected to need 6,182 hospital beds compared to a total capcity of 14,395 beds. The state will need 949 ICU beds compared to a total capacity of 1,043 ICU beds.
With a high concentration of cases in Philadelphia and the surrounding counties, however, it's not clear how much the model accounts for the geographic distribution of hospital resources and needs.
In New Jersey, where 202 people had died as of Monday morning, the model projects a more dire path ahead. By August 4, the state would see 2,096 deaths due to COVID-19, according to the current trajectory. The peak would come on April 10, with 104 deaths.
More worrisome in the New Jersey projection is that the state would fall short of medical resources to handle the surge of patients, set to peak on April 9. While the state would need 9,502 hospital beds, it would have only 7,815 available.
Anticipating the need for additional resources, both Pennsylvania and New Jersey have made efforts to expand hospital capacity to meet a surge of COVID-19 patients.
In Philadelphia, the city is working with Temple University to use the Liacouras Center as a field hospital for non-COVID-19 patients in need of medical attention. The city also has entered a lease with the Holiday Inn Express in Center City to provide quarantine and isolation space.
In New Jersey, the state is setting up temporary hospitals at the Atlantic City Convention Center, the Meadowlands Exposition Center in Secaucus and the New Jersey Convention and Exposition Center in Edison.
Nationwide, the IHME model currently projects 82,141 COVID-19 deaths by August 4, with a peak 2,271 deaths on April 15.
The IHME answers a series of questions about the model in a helpful FAQ, explaining which factors are likely to result in changes to its projections as the pandemic continues.
“Our estimated trajectory of COVID-19 deaths assumes continued and uninterrupted vigilance by the general public, hospital and health workers and government agencies,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, director of the IHME at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. “The trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions. We encourage everyone to adhere to those precautions to help save lives.”