More than three million Americans—close to 1 percent of the entire population—are currently infected with the novel coronavirus and have the potential to transmit the disease to others, according to new models from Columbia University and University of Washington.
The model from Columbia University’s team estimates that 3.6 million people are infected and shedding the virus across the United States, while the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is seeing approximately 3.2 million infections, more than five times the number reported by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The researchers noted that the infection numbers can vary due to the coronavirus outbreaks becoming much more widespread and many are unaware that they have contracted the illness because they are asymptomatic.
Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman told the Washington Post that current figures mark a sizeable 34 percent increase from the week prior, adding that there was already a 36 percent jump from the previous week.
“It’s bad. It’s really, really bad,” he said. “We’re running into Thanksgiving now and that’s only going to make it worse. We’re going to go through a lot of people being infected between now and the end of the year, unfortunately.”
The CDC on Thursday recommended that Americans refrain from traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday.
There is “no more important time than now for each and every American to redouble our efforts to watch our distance, wash our hands and, most importantly, wear a mask,” Dr. Henry Walke, the agency’s COVID-19 incident manager, said in a briefing.
“One of our concerns is that as people over the holiday season get together, they may actually be bringing infections with them to that small gathering and not even know it,” he continued, adding that 30 percent to 40 percent of the coronavirus spread is being driven by individuals not exhibiting symptoms.
The IHME model is forecasting daily increases in new cases for the next month and a half. As of Wednesday, more than 79,400 people nationwide were hospitalized due to complications from coronavirus—the highest figure since the pandemic started roughly ten months ago.
Earlier this week, the CDC updated its grim forecast for coronavirus-related deaths, saying that they will “likely increase over the next four weeks, with 7,300 to 16,000 new deaths likely to be reported in the week ending December 12, 2020.”
“When do you want to hit the brakes? That’s the question,” Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at IHME, told the Washington Post. “When you have a fire, you send the firetruck. You don’t wait and say, ‘Okay, let me wait a little bit, maybe that fire isn’t going to spread that much.’ … We already moved into exponential growth. Just hit the brakes as soon as you can.”
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.