Mar 30, 2020 - Health

America's grimmest month

President Trump gives a press briefing in the Rose Garden.
Trump gives his Sunday press briefing in the Rose Garden. Photo: Tasos Katopodis/Getty Images

President Trump asked Americans to continue social distancing until April 30, officials warned that tens or even hundreds of thousands of Americans could die — and that's the least depressing scenario.

Why it matters: April is going to be very hard. But public health officials are in agreement that hunkering down — in our own homes — and weathering one of the darkest months in American history is the only way to prevent millions of American deaths.

The big picture: Because of early missteps by the Trump administration, the virus has already spread widely throughout the United States, undetected, and the number of cases in most major U.S. cities has skyrocketed.

  • We now must wait for the virus to run its course among those who are already sick, or have recently been exposed and fall ill in the next few days.
  • Even though the administration is urging adherence to its social distancing guidelines, many states still haven't shut down nonessential businesses or issued shelter-in-place orders, meaning the virus is still likely spreading in these areas.

By the numbers: Estimates now being echoed by the Trump administration have found that the U.S. coronavirus outbreak will peak in two weeks.

  • Deborah Birx, who's coordinating the White House coronavirus response, mentioned by name a model by the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation that predicts the demand for hospital beds and supplies — including ventilators — will far exceed supply on April 14.
  • On that day, 2,341 coronavirus deaths are expected in a single day.
  • The model predicts that 81,000 Americans will die over the next four months, and that's assuming strong adherence to social distancing measures.

The alternative is worse. Without social distancing, as many as 2.2 million Americans could die, Trump said yesterday — the number of deaths predicted by a report released earlier this month.

Between the lines: Even though the federal government and private companies are scrambling to manufacture more medical supplies, even under miraculous scenarios, it's too late to manufacture our way out of the shortages that are predicted over the next few weeks.

  • But health care workers and the federal government are getting creative with ways to stretch a limited supply, through measures like sanitizing and reusing masks and finding ways to use a single ventilator for more than one patient.

The bottom line: We should all expect the same harrowing stories from hospitals in Italy and China to be replicated here. At the same time, we'll be wading into uncharted economic territory.

  • And yet, we've never all had such an important role to play, as individuals, in mitigating a national crisis: staying home, and stopping the spread.

Subscribe to Mike Allen's Axios AM to follow our coronavirus coverage each morning from your inbox.

Go deeper