Brace yourself for the latest COVID-19 predictions: You're not going to like them

Brace yourself for the latest COVID-19 predictions: You're not going to like them
President Donald J. Trump listens as Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, addresses his remarks during a meeting with fellow members of the Coronavirus Task Force and representatives from pharmaceutical companies Monday March 2, 2020, in the Cabinet Room of the White House. (Official White House Photo by Joyce N. Boghosian)

Just two weeks ago, when Dr. Anthony Fauci predicted that the United States could see 100,000 cases of COVID-19 in a day, it seemed like a nightmare scenario. At the time America had just topped 40,000 cases for the first time. Make that 50,000. Then 60,000. Tuesday was the second day the nation logged over 70,000 cases in a day. It was also the first time the United States recorded over 1,000 deaths from COVID-19 since June 9.


To say that Mike Pence’s “no second wave” op-ed is going to be recorded as one of the most bassackwards statements in history is a given. But what’s shocking is that even Fauci’s prediction that was disturbing at the start of the month, looks like it could end up undershooting the real situation as badly as Pence did. The reasons for that are simple enough: We have governors who are willing to kill their people to score political points, we have a government determined to hide the truth of what’s happening, and we have people who are intentionally destroying their communities to own … whoever is left to care. And the result is that instead of 100,000 cases a day, the United States could be facing a million cases a day. Herd immunity, here we come … with half a million dead in tow.

On Wednesday evening, county commissioners in Provo, Utah convened a meeting for the purposes of discussing a proposed mandate to wear a face mask when schools convene in the fall. That meeting ended up being almost immediately adjourned because more than 100 non-mask-wearing people crammed into the small meeting room, refusing to keep their distance from each other or commissioners. Even more people turned up for an anti-mask rally before the meeting. Comments from those who came to give the commissioners a face full of unfiltered breath included statements that wearing a mask would “break the mind” of children, claims that allowing kids to play in the dirt would boost their immune systems to fight off the disease, and at least one claim that “COVID is a hoax. It’s a lie. It’s a political stunt."

And that, as much as any other event in the nation, is why hundreds of thousands of Americans are very likely to die in the next six months.

There have been other nations—Italy, France, and Spain are good examples—that faced the COVID-19 pandemic with a good number of blunders, a fair share of denial, and the usual levels of political infighting. But no other nation has so thoroughly discarded both science and reason in a process of self-destruction that seems purposeful in its malevolence.  As one of those people at the Utah commission meeting declared, this is “a weaponized virus.” It is. Americans have weaponized it to kill other Americans.

So where are we heading now? We’re going right where it seemed we might go back at the beginning of March.

PROJECTED DEATHS FROM UNCONSTRAINED CORONAVIRUS
0.5% CFR1.0% CFR2.0% CFR4.0% CFR
10% POPULATION163,000327,000654,0001,308,000
25% POPULATION408,000817,0001,635,0003,270,000
50% POPULATION817,0001,635,0003,270,0006,540,000
75% POPULATION1,226,0002,453,0004,905,0009,810,000

We are, at this moment, likely closing in on the 10% mark based on the best estimates of how confirmed cases relate to total cases. Confirmed cases now stand at 1.1% of the total population—an amazing stat all on its own. Deaths haven’t quite made it onto this chart yet because they’re lagging behind the spike of cases. But they will. What we’re deciding now is which box on this table we’re going to occupy, and in way too many ways, we are aiming at the bottom right.

However, that kind of number remains terribly pessimistic and unlikely. That meeting room in Utah may have been filled with conspiracy theorists convinced that rolling in the dirt would save them from COVID-19, but the nation is not. Utah is not. After all, the whole reason they were having that meeting in the first place was that the state’s Republican governor has issued a mandate.

Gov. Gregg Abbott has reversed himself in Texas. Gov. Doug Ducey of Arizona hasn’t actually issued a mask order, but has at least gotten out of the way for cities and counties that want to do so. On Thursday afternoon, Arkansas Gov. Asa Hutchinson, who had refused to ever issue a stay-at-home order for his state, recognized the threat of the spiking cases there and issued a statewide mask mandate. There remains some hope, because not every governor is Ron DeSantis (Florida) or Brian Kemp (Georgia). Even the most ardent Republican politicians are going to have a hard time throwing their citizens into mass graves to please a man who will be out of office in January.

On the other hand, there are now almost 2 million confirmed active cases of COVID-19 in the United States. That number is probably something closer to 20 million, all in. That’s a number that can’t be handled by case management. Can’t be successfully isolated. While it’s likely that the U.S. won’t hit that nearly 10 million figure of the worst case above, there are no good boxes on this chart.

We are still where we were at the start of March. Except that instead of dealing with 239 confirmed cases and a few thousand cases circulating through the public, there are tens of millions. And just as in March, the number of people who would become infected before herd immunity would bring the epidemic below the point where it could sustain itself is likely around 70%. Possibly higher. That would mean going through what we’ve been through so far, six more times. Except faster.

That number can be pushed down though social distancing, pushed down more through widespread use of masks, pushed down more by stay-at-home orders and serious lockdowns. All those things are coming. They’re just coming too late. They’re already too late to keep the total number of dead from reaching something between 300,000 and 400,000. The always optimistic IHME model is now projecting 224,000 by November 1. That’s just … where we are.

Which is an awful place to be. However, Daily Beast is currently projecting that before the end of the year, half of all Americans could have been infected by COVID-19 and 800,000 could die. Those are the kinds of numbers that wouldn’t just overrun the healthcare system, they would overrun a lot of systems. If 800,000 die from COVID-19, they won’t die alone.

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