It’s not time to head back to the office, make a dinner reservation or attend the community Easter egg hunt.
But the massive number of deaths the United States could see from the coronavirus outbreak has come down. Way down. And officials have been very quiet about it.
The outside figure dangled in front of Americans by the country’s best medical experts was 2.2 million deaths. That was the high number in the 1.5 million to 2.2 million range given to President Donald Trump, the man who, you know, doesn’t listen to advice. But he listened and dutifully reported it.
“Now it’s not impossible,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said in a March interview, “but very, very unlikely.”
Total deaths in America could reach that high if Americans went about their way of life without any changes, without any social distancing, without shutting down a good portion of the economy.
At the time, we thought that number must have been conjured by the same people who explained how Obamacare worked. You remember that — the healthy would pay for the sick in such numbers that all Americans would see a $2,500 reduction in their health insurance costs.
Or we wondered if perhaps the people offering up the figure were the pollsters who predicted a landslide win in the 2016 presidential election for Hillary Clinton.
Either way, the number seemed unfathomable, and it didn’t last. If Americans could keep away from each other, we were later told, the deaths could be held to 100,000 to 250,000. But that’s only if everybody did their part.
That number has survived into this week but is said by the media to only be possible if backward Southern states with Republican governors force their people to stay at home. And that’s repeated even though only one Southern state, Arkansas, has not required a stay-at-home order, and the few other states that haven’t are in the upper central portion of the country. And it’s stated with New York City — led by a Democratic mayor and a Democratic governor — responsible for about a third of the nearly 11,000 deaths in the country to date.
The next few weeks, the country’s top medical experts also say, will be the worst in terms of death.
But, some of them say, another numbers revision may be in order. Even with a surge of deaths, that 100,000-250,000 range may be — um — a little high, they say.
On Sunday night, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) said it lowered its projection for the number of American deaths by the start of August from 93,531 to 81,766, a drop of 12%.
“As we obtain more data and more precise data, the forecasts we at IHME created here have become more accurate,” Dr. Christopher Murray, the director of the IHME, said.
The agency reported an even bigger drop in the number of hospital beds that would be needed at the peak of the virus’s spread from 262,029 to 140,823, a decline of 58%.
Meanwhile, new cases across the country seem to have leveled off, and the death rate in New York was reported to be “effectively flat” for the last two days.
During Monday’s White House briefing, Fauci and Dr. Deborah Birx, coordinator of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, said the 100K-plus number is not one the country needs to be wedded to.
“I don’t accept that we have to have 100,000 to 200,000 deaths,” Fauci said. “I think we can really bring that down.”
“[I]f we work as hard as we can over the next several weeks,” said Birx, “… we will see potential to go under the numbers that were predicted by the models.”
But how can this be? Trump, we’re told by the largely Democratic media, has blood on his hands because he didn’t do enough at the outset of the virus to prepare the country. And he couldn’t magically create all the beds and respirators that were said to be needed, despite the proven failures of the previous administration to create a stockpile of them.
To our thinking, one death from the COVID-19 virus is one too many. But the estimated death numbers from 2.2 million to 250,000 to 100,000 to who knows how few prove how little we knew about the virus and its potential.
So in estimating hospital beds, respirators and nurses, in shutting down businesses, parks and playgrounds, in writing stimulus checks, making loan money available and bailing out airlines, we’re all just guessing. Yes, it’s the best guesses of our best experts, but it’s still guesses.
Our best guess now is to continue social distancing. We know without guessing that makes the chances for contracting the virus smaller. But it won’t be long until small business owners hanging on by a fingernail, hourly workers, tourist industry employees and parents cooped up in suddenly too small houses will demand more than guesses.
And we have to have better answers for them than everybody everywhere — urban or rural, farm or retail, white collar or blue collar, essential or non-essential — should keep doing the same thing in the same way until some unknown date in the future.
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