Expected Virus Death Toll Increases Again

SK Ashby
Written by SK Ashby

The University of Washington model for projected deaths that has been widely circulated by states and the federal government was updated on Friday of last week with a projection that we'll see 140,000 by August, but the model had to be updated again just yesterday.

New cases are on the rise again and this prompted university researchers to update their model just three days later to project 145,000 deaths by August.

(Reuters) - University of Washington researchers estimated on Monday that 145,728 people could die of COVID-19 in the United States by August, raising their grim forecast by more than 5,000 fatalities in a matter of days.

On Friday, the widely cited Institute for Health Metrics and evaluation at the university projected 140,496 deaths by August from COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the coronavirus. Researchers did not give a reason for the abrupt revision.

The new estimate came on the same day that Texas reported its highest number of hospitalizations so far in the pandemic and 22 U.S. states showed at least a small uptick in the number of new confirmed cases, according to a count kept by Johns Hopkins University.

It's worth noting that the current increase in hospitalizations is not from infections that may have been spread through protests over the last week.

With an incubation period of about two weeks, and with infections leading to hospitalization up to a week or longer after symptoms appear, it's too soon for anyone infected at a protest to require hospitalization. New hospitalizations occurring today are from reopening the economy, not protests.

And speaking of protests -- epidemiologists who spoke to the Pew Research Center say police actions may be more responsible for spreading the virus than just the gathering of crowds alone. They say confining people in small spaces (like a jail) increases transmission and tear gas also spreads the virus.

“The biggest concern for transmission at these protests is coming from the actions of the police,” said Dr. Eleanor Murray, an assistant professor of epidemiology at Boston University School of Public Health, in an email to Stateline. “Arresting people, packing them into transport vans and buses, and crowding them into cells are all very harmful from a transmission perspective.”

According to Buzzfeed, which surveyed 30 local police departments across the country, authorities have arrested at least 11,000 protesters in just over a week, a partial count of the nationwide total.

Dr. Bill Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at the Vanderbilt University Medical Center, was surprised to hear the Buzzfeed tally.

“I had no idea it was anywhere close to that,” he said in an interview. “It has concerned me that some of these people were being put into buses and then undoubtedly placed for some period of time in holding cells. We know that jails and prisons have been the focus of the spread of the virus. [...]

[Tear gas] inflames the mucus membranes,” Schaffner said. “[Victims] might be susceptible to a lower dose of the virus being able to initiate the infection.

Research conducted in 2012 by the U.S. Army found that recruits exposed to tear gas were at a much higher risk for respiratory infection.

And tear gas induces violent coughing, an infection risk for others.

“There is strong concern among public health experts that the use of respiratory irritants like tear gas will increase transmission,” Murray said in her email.

Trump's belief that the coronavirus has been conquered and all he needs to worry about at this point is the economy may come back to bite him -- and unfortunately all of us -- later this summer. And the two are connected.

The World Health Organization says 136,000 new virus cases were reported worldwide on Sunday alone which was actually the highest daily total yet since the pandemic began.