Donald Trump’s top advisers have expressed doubts about the accuracy of the White House’s apocalyptic predictions that 240,000 Americans will die from the coronavirus pandemic, sources said.
As the death toll in the United States reached 6,056 on Thursday and the country’s health care system is bending under the crisis, administration officials said the harsh forecast could have been a tactic to warn the president that he must act now.
The White House on Tuesday predicted the shock that there would be between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths in the United States if the nation continues on its path and current guidelines on social distancing are maintained.
Trump said the estimates were based on data “which I think has been brilliantly collected.”
Some of Donald Trump’s top advisers have expressed doubts about the accuracy of the White House’s apocalyptic predictions that 240,000 Americans will die from the coronavirus pandemic, sources said. American death reached 6,056 Thursday
The figures set the United States on the path to historic disaster, with more Americans dead from the pandemic than the Vietnam War.
However, some of the president’s key advisers are baffled by the figures that have sparked heated debate within the Trump administration, according to three anonymous White House officials.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s largest pandemic medical expert and a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, questioned the figures at a task force meeting this week, they told Washington Post.
“I looked at all the models. I spent a lot of time on the models. They don’t tell you anything, “said Fauci.
“You can’t really rely on the models. “
Some administration officials said the harsh forecast could have been a tactic to warn the president that he must act now after being repeatedly accused of not taking the pandemic seriously
Dr. Anthony Fauci, America’s largest pandemic medical expert and a member of President Trump’s coronavirus task force, questioned the figures at a task force meeting this week, sources told the Washington Post.
The White House has remained silent on the numbers, even refusing to explain how they were calculated or providing the data underlying the shock statistics.
Deborah Birx, coordinator of the coronavirus task force, said Tuesday that the figures were based on five or six modelers, including from Imperial College in Britain and Harvard, Colombia and universities in the northeast .
“It was their models that made it possible to see what these attenuations could do, how much they could lower the curve,” said Birx.
She had previously stated that the working group was examining the work of 12 models.
“Then we went back to the drawing board in the past week or two and worked from scratch, using actual case reports,” said Birx.
Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said his own work on the coronavirus, which was used by the White House to reach its numbers, couldn’t be used to predict as far as the total number of dead.
“This is how we built the HIV model, the TB model, the malaria model. And when we finished, the other group that was working in parallel – that we didn’t know, “referring to the IHME group.
But medical experts whose models were used to arrive at the estimates have now spoken out, raising questions about where the numbers come from.
Columbia University epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman said his own work on the coronavirus cited by the White House could not be used to predict the total death toll so far.
“We have no idea what’s going on here and now, and we don’t know what people will do in the future,” he told the Post.
“We don’t know if the virus is seasonal. “
Shaman said he thought the death toll could be lower than expected: “I think we can do less than 100,000 deaths. I do. The jury is not there yet.
Marc Lipsitch, epidemiologist and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics at Harvard University, who also contributed his model to the White House, said the numbers had been rushed.
“They contacted us, I think, on a Tuesday a week ago, and asked for answers and comments by Thursday, essentially 24 hours,” he said.
“My first response was that we can’t do it that quickly. But we ended up providing them with figures responding to very specific scenarios. “
Models from Imperial College and the University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) predict the numbers closest to those offered by the White House.
Imperial College estimates that there could be up to 2.2 million deaths in the United States if steps were not taken to slow the spread, 1.1 million deaths if moderate mitigation were adopted, and an undetermined number of deaths if drastic measures were taken.
This corresponds to the worst scenario of the White House of 1.5 to 2.2 million deaths if the Americans and the government do nothing to slow the spread.
The IHME estimates that deaths in the United States will be between 38,000 and 162,000 if each state issues a lock and maintains it until the summer.
Christopher Murray, the head of the IHME group, told the Post that the two models are not comparable.
“The reason we created our model is to help hospitals plan. How many beds you will need, how many fans, when the peak is likely, ”said Murray.
The objective of the Imperial model “is to make people understand that government intervention is crucial and what would happen without it,” he said.
The White House prediction also did not specify a timetable for the death toll, other experts told the Post.
However, administration officials said the shock figures were picked up for the president after he long dismissed the severity of the growing crisis.
Dramatic imperial figures of 2.2 million deaths have been used to convince Trump to take the pandemic seriously, officials said.
And official figures of 100,000 to 240,000 dead prompted him to abandon his plans to reopen the United States for Easter on April 12 and assured him of extending the restrictions for another 30 days, they said.