- New COVID-19 strains from the UK and South Africa are in the U.S. and are already spreading across multiple states.
- The new strains are 50% more contagious than the original strain but aren’t believed to be more deadly.
- A new projection from the University of Washington predicts that the COVID-19 death toll will reach 619,000 by May 1.
According to new projections released by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, we’re still a long way from being able to put the coronavirus pandemic behind us. In light of new and more contagious COVID-19 variants from the UK and South Africa, the IHME believes that the coronavirus death toll could reach 619,000 by May 1. Put differently, there’s a chance that nearly 180,000 more Americans will die from the coronavirus over the next three months.
“What we’re seeing is sobering and will require us to continue taking this pandemic very seriously,” IHME director Christopher Murray said in a statement. “Getting vaccines out quickly is essential, and masks are still one of the best tools we have to keep transmission low and avoid the worst possible outcome. People will need to continue taking precautions even once they are vaccinated, because of the potential for more contagious variants to spread.”
While COVID projections can sometimes be all over the map, it’s worth paying attention to the IHME because their statistical model has proven to be remarkably accurate in the past. Back in early October, for example, the IHME said that the coronavirus death rate could reach 2,900 per day by the end of December and that the cumulative death toll could hit 430,000 by March 2021.
With February now upon us, the projections above proved to be on-target, and a bit conservative if anything. By late December and early January, the coronavirus death rate hit around 3,200 deaths per day. Further, the total number of COVID-related deaths in the U.S. currently stands at 440,000. Put simply, the IHME’s updated projection underscores that we’re not out of the woods yet. In turn, adhering to coronavirus safety guidelines is as important now as ever.
The new COVID-19 variants from the UK and South Africa understandably have health officials concerned as both variants are 50% more contagious than the original strain. Even more worrisome is that the South Africa strain — which was discovered in the U.S last week — is reportedly more resistant to existing COVID-19 vaccines.
In a situation that will hopefully never come to pass, the IHME notes that a worst-case scenario would see the arrival of a third wave next winter. Consequently, the IHME stresses how important it is to boost the vaccination rate and enforce safety guidelines like mask-wearing and social distancing.
“Governments and the public need to plan for the real prospect that COVID-19 must be managed on an ongoing basis,” Murray added. “It’s critical to vaccinate as many people as possible and to prepare for long-term behavior change. It’s likely that wearing masks and taking other measures to prevent transmission, especially in the winter months, will become an ongoing part of our lives.”