Another 193,000 people could lose their lives due to the novel coronavirus over the next two months, according to a new forecast by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), which means that 3,200 people could potentially die from the virus on a daily basis.
Since the start of the pandemic roughly eleven months ago, December has been the nation’s deadliest month with more than 63,000 Americans dying from the disease over the past twenty-six days. For comparison, November witnessed 36,964 deaths.
Moreover, coronavirus-related hospitalization numbers across the United States are already at record levels. Over the past weekend, the country registered its fifth-highest number of hospitalizations, with more than 117,300 coronavirus patients nationwide, data from the COVID Tracking Project revealed.
In all, according to the latest data from Johns Hopkins University, the United States has had more than nineteen million cases and 330,000 related deaths.
The mutant viruses wreaking havoc in the United Kingdom and other countries are also adding to the concerns of health officials and medical professionals. There is yet a definitive answer on whether the recently rolled out vaccines work against those particular variants.
“The worst-case scenario (is) a mutant virus emerges that is resistant to current vaccines,” Dr. Wes Van Voorhis, professor of allergy and infectious diseases at the University of Washington and director of the Center for Emerging and Re-emerging Infectious Diseases, told The National Interest.
“If the virus is able to mutate to avoid the immune response from available vaccines, that will set us back tremendously. It is possible that it’s not possible for the virus to mutate that much, as the vaccines are mostly directed to the part of the virus that is necessary to bind human cells. That part of the virus may not be able to change too much and still infect humans. We will see. Certainly, the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines can be changed rapidly to accommodate new mutant viruses, but subsequent testing for safety and efficacy will take time.”
The IHME added that vaccines will prevent only 9,000 deaths by April, but did note that a rapid vaccine rollout targeting high-risk individuals could help save 14,000 more lives.
“Mass scale-up of vaccination in 2021 means we have a path back to normal life, but there are still a few rough months ahead,” IHME Director Christopher Murray said in a news release. “We must be vigilant in protecting ourselves at least through April, when, as our projections indicate, vaccines will begin to have an impact.”
The institute also contended that reaching a 95 percent compliance on mask-wearing, combined with the vaccine rollout, has the potential to save 66,000 lives by April 1.
However, if states do not act to bring current surges down to more manageable levels, the death toll could reach 770,000.
“Especially in the Northern Hemisphere, it’s crucial for governments to impose or re-impose mandates that limit gatherings and require masks,” Murray said. “Where the winter surge is driving spikes in infections, there will be many people who can still become infected and possibly die before the vaccine is fully rolled out.”
Ethen Kim Lieser is a Minneapolis-based Science and Tech Editor who has held posts at Google, The Korea Herald, Lincoln Journal Star, AsianWeek, and Arirang TV. Follow or contact him on LinkedIn.