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A paper released yesterday by researchers at the University of Washington forecasts the peak of the coronavirus outbreak will hit New York in about nine days and the death toll here could exceed 10,000 by the end of April.

The grim report came as the United States surged past China and Italy yesterday in novel coronavirus infections, with 85,991 cases — an increase of more than 15,000 from Wednesday. The disease has killed 1,296 Americans so far.

New York remains the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S., with 38,987 cases identified and 385 deaths as of this morning.

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Gov. Andrew Cuomo this week said the rapid spread of the virus and new modeling caused the state to advance by at least three weeks its previous estimated peak of the outbreak in New York. On Wednesday, Cuomo told New Yorkers to expect the peak of the outbreak in 14 to 21 days. A week earlier he said the peak was forecast to be about 45 days out.

The analysis done by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine in Seattle, projects New York State will need 48,311 hospital beds on the peak date of April 6. The state will need 7,667 ICU beds and 4,141 invasive ventilators at the peak, according to the paper.

See IMHE’s state-by-state COVID-19 projections

The researchers’ analysis shows the ranges of hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators needed could reach peaks much higher than their projections — up to 122,319 beds, 19,169 ICU beds and 10,378 invasive ventilators.

New York officials have projected the state will need up to 140,000 hospital beds and 30,000 ICU beds and ventilators at the peak of the virus outbreak here. State officials have been scrambling to expand hospital capacity and procure a sufficient number of ventilators to save lives at the peak of the outbreak here.

The governor has ordered every hospital in the state to increase its capacity by at least 50%. The Federal Emergency Management Agency is building a 1,000-bed field hospital at the Javits Center in Manhattan and the Army Corps of Engineers is building temporary hospitals at Stony Brook University, SUNY/Old Westbury, the Westchester Convention Center and the Javits Center. The President has ordered a Navy hospital ship to New York Harbor. Yesterday, Cuomo said the state would seek to build an additional temporary hospitals in each of the nine downstate counties.

The IHME researchers say deaths per day in New York will likely peak at 547 on April 8 and the ultimate death toll could reach 10,243 deaths by April 24. The potential range of total deaths from the outbreak could reach as high as 26,983, according to the research paper.

IHME’s analysis estimates that over the next four months in the U.S., approximately 81,000 people will die from the virus; its estimated range of total deaths nationwide is between 38,000 and 162,000.

The paper’s author said the projections — as opposed to the higher end of the ranges for infections, hospitalizations and deaths — depend on people strongly adhering to social distancing measures and by taking other precautions advised by public health officials.

“Our estimated trajectory of COVID-19 deaths assumes continued and uninterrupted vigilance by the general public, hospital and health workers, and government agencies,” IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray and the author of the report, said in a press release accompanying the document.

“The trajectory of the pandemic will change – and dramatically for the worse – if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions,” he said. 
“We encourage everyone to adhere to those precautions to help save lives.”

The analysis was developed in response to requests from the University of Washington School of Medicine and other U.S. hospital systems and state governments working to determine when COVID-19 would overwhelm their ability to care for patients. The state-by-state data analysis projects demand for hospital services, including the availability of ventilators, beds, and general hospital beds.

The paper was posted yesterday to the medRxiv preprint server. It has not yet been subject to and certified by peer-review.

Experts say the science and mathematics of computer modeling that’s used to predict the course of epidemics is pretty standard, according to a March 25 report in Science magazine.

But because the virus that causes COVID-19 is new, key parameters used in the models must be estimated. These parameters include things like: the number of new infections caused by each infected person when no control measures are taken; the number of days between when a person is infected and the time they start to infect others; susceptibility of different age groups to the virus; and the rate at which people of various ages transmit the virus.

Models can’t predict certain things, like whether an antiviral drug will prove effective or whether the public adheres to social distancing guidelines or even orders to stay home.

“We also have not explicitly incorporated the effect of reduced quality of care due to stressed and overloaded health systems beyond what is captured in the data,” the paper says.

Harvard University epidemiologist William Hanage told Science it’s dangerous for politicians to trust models that claim to show how a little-studied virus can be kept in check. “It’s like, you’ve decided you’ve got to ride a tiger,” he said, “except you don’t know where the tiger is, how big it is, or how many tigers there actually are.”

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Denise Civiletti
Denise is a veteran local reporter, editor, attorney and former Riverhead Town councilwoman. Her work has been recognized with numerous awards, including investigative reporting and writer of the year awards from the N.Y. Press Association. She is a founder, owner and co-publisher of this website.Email Denise.