President Donald Trump has never exactly displayed a close attention to the science of the Coronavirus pandemic. Now, POLITICO is reporting how he and his advisers focused on one particular forecast for the numbers of Coronavirus cases and deaths that did not actually incorporate some of the key factors of the disease, like its transmissibility, and therefore ended up with projections that have been proving “overly optimistic.” In the president’s rush for this optimism, he has ignored the need to prepare for the possibility of even higher case counts and death tolls in the U.S.
The “overly optimistic” model in question was developed by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), and its most recent round of projections include a death toll around 67,000. At one point, the model’s estimate for eventual total deaths was closer to 60,000, a figure that Trump touted at a press conference as if even that dismal marker would be some kind of success story, but now, the U.S. is “expected to blow past the 60,000 mark around the beginning of May, earlier than the IHME model had projected and with less of the dramatic leveling-off that its forecast had initially baked in,” POLITICO reports.
The outlet adds that “the administration’s reliance on [IHME’s] projections has… frustrated much of the public health community, which cautions that IHME has not hewed to traditional disease modeling procedures or incorporated crucial variables.”
Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Medicine, commented:
‘The IHME model is an odd duck in the pool of mathematical models. I fear the White House is looking for data that tells them a story they want to hear, and so they look to the model with the lowest projection of death.’
Looking for and latching onto a model with the most optimistic projections possible means, of course, that opportunities to prepare for very highly possible worst-case scenarios might be missed.
One example would be the duration of government-enforced social distancing demands. The IHME model has projected that the rate of hospitalization and death from the Coronavirus in the U.S. would wane at nearly the same pace that it had risen. That possibility seems less and less likely. The U.S. has already been at around 1,500 deaths or far more a day for about three weeks. Many of those days have seen single-day death tolls above 2,000 — on Tuesday, the U.S. hit around 2,600.
The IHME model from the University of Washington has apparently run on trying to pair U.S. data to points in past curves of new cases and deaths from countries like Italy and China. One problem inherent in that approach would be, however, that data about the virus outbreak from China is not credible to begin with, according to U.S. intelligence reports.
Now, the U.S. continues to have to grapple with very present issues like struggles to secure adequate Coronavirus testing and treatment supplies amidst the pandemic. President Trump, in part because of his reliance on “overly optimistic” projections and in part because of his own commitment to trying to make himself look good, has frequently refused to take needs seriously.