500,000 deaths by February? Another fairy tale by IHME.

Last night while I was being interviewed on national TV, supposedly about the FDA’s vaccine advisory committee, the commentator anxiously asked me what I thought about “the finding” that we could have 500,000 people die from COVID-19 by this coming February. I didn’t have time to respond adequately in the segment, but I feel it is so important to clarify this number that I decided to do it in my blog post today.  

Our old friends at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine, use statistical models to predict COVID-19 numbers. These models are totally based on assumptions about current trends, modifying behavior, and the infection fatality rate (IFR) for COVID-19. Their previous predictions have been wildly off base, some much higher that what has occurred while others showing a “summer lull” in infections, which obviously didn’t happen.

An example was a paper in the journal “Health Affairs” from May calculating an IFR of 1.3% for COVID-19; or 1.3 of 100 people infected dying. This was massively higher than any other prediction based on actual infection. In fact, IFR has continued to drop precipitously, and one of the best pieces of news is that COVID-19 deaths have stayed lower even during current outbreaks.  

Chris Murray

So how do we get to 500,000 deaths by February? The IHME is now predicting a “massive die off from the dark winter” COVID-19 outbreak. Institute Director Chris Murray published this prediction, and he was all over the news, even appearing on Fox TV, to push this story. But the actual prediction is not for 500,000 deaths by February!

IHME Projections on COVID-19 deaths in the US. The massive spike in deaths they have been pushing on the news only happens if social distancing and mask requirements are substantially eased (red line)!

Murray claims that “if mask mandates and social distancing requirements are substantially eased across the country, then their model predicts the death total could rise as high as 477,000 in the next two-and-a-half months.” No one in their right mind is rolling back mask mandates and social distancing right now.

They also predict a “best-case scenario” of 314,000 deaths by February if all Americans decide to wear masks. This is based on a simulation the predicts “deaths to stop declining and begin increasing in the next one to two weeks. The winter surge appears to have begun somewhat later than the surge in Europe. Daily deaths will reach over 2,000 a day in January even with many states re-imposing mandates before the end of the year.” I cannot find definitive data on what this theory is based on!

Again, this is all guessing based on their assumptions, many of which do not seem plausible. Almost no one right now is arguing against masks, but throwing out scary numbers that don’t come true just makes the public cynical and less likely to do the right things!

Published by jbakerjrblog

Immunologist, former Army MD, former head of allergy and clinical immunology at University of Michigan, vaccine developer and opinionated guy.

3 thoughts on “500,000 deaths by February? Another fairy tale by IHME.

  1. Hey Dr. Baker!

    It’s been a while. I hope you are well. I am extremely delighted to have stumbled across your blog. It’s nice to read a rational take on the pandemic.

    Stay safe!

    Liked by 1 person

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