COVID-19 News

CDC director suggests projections may overestimate COVID-19 deaths

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) suggested Monday that because Americans are taking social distancing recommendations “to heart,” the death toll from the novel coronavirus will be “much, much, much lower” than models have projected.

“If we just social distance, we will see this virus and this outbreak basically decline, decline, decline. And I think that's what you're seeing,” CDC director Robert Redfield said in an interview with a Tucson, Arizona, radio station. “I think you're going to see the numbers are, in fact, going to be much less than what would have been predicted by the models.”

Redfield’s remarks struck a rosier tone than some other recent predictions. On Monday morning, for example, the U.S. Surgeon General equated the coming week’s fallout to the attacks on Pearl Harbor.

National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Disease (NIAID) Director Anthony Fauci said he was very interested in data in New York that the number of admissions to intensive care and intubations in the last three days had started to level off.

“We just got to realize that this is an indication despite all the suffering and the death that has occurred that what we have been doing has been working,” Fauci told reporters.

At the same time, Harvard epidemiologist John Brownstein said Redfield’s comments could mislead Americans into feeling a sense that the disease’s spread is under control.

“Projections and models across the board are accounting for a reduction in mobility because of social distancing, so it’s way too soon to declare any kind of victory,” he said. “This is not a moment for people to relax because they feel the models are wrong.”

Redfield, for his part, downplayed the dire projections.

“Models are only as good as their assumptions, obviously there are a lot of unknowns about the virus” he said. “A model should never be used to assume that we have a number.”

Models released last week by the White House Coronavirus Task Force suggested that the virus is expected to kill between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans.

Redfield also said the CDC kept some early models to themselves, without divulging the timing or nature of those models.

“CDC had models early on -- we didn't really publicize the models,” he said. “We used them internally to understand mitigation strategies.”

Once a fixture of the administration’s public response to the disease’s spread, Redfield has taken a backseat in recent weeks. Others like Fauci and White House Task Force Chair Dr. Deborah Birx have taken on more outspoken roles.

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