May 4, 2020 - Health

CDC privately projects significant May surge in coronavirus cases and deaths

Photo: Win McNamee/Getty Images

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is projecting that by June 1, the U.S. will see a surge in daily new coronavirus cases from about 25,000 to 200,000, and an increase in daily deaths from about 1,750 to about 3,000, according to an internal document obtained by the New York Times.

Why it matters: The report comes as the federal government and individual states have been working to reopen parts of the economy after a seven-week shutdown.

  • The model was created by Johns Hopkins professor Justin Lessler, who said it was a range of possibilities, according to WashPost. "I had no role in the process by which that was presented and shown ... it was not in any way intended to be a forecast."
    • “There are reopening scenarios where it could get out of control very quickly."
  • Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb warned on CBS Sunday that mitigation hasn't worked "as well as we expected" and that the U.S. could see "persistent spread" of the virus through the summer.
  • At a Fox News town hall on Sunday, meanwhile, President Trump said the coronavirus death toll could reach 100,000 — revising his projection upward after forecasting last month that it could be as low as 50,000.
Government internal documents obtained by the New York Times.
Government internal documents obtained by the New York Times.

The big picture: The projections in the report underscore the fear that relaxing social distancing guidelines could put the U.S. back where it was in mid-March, when the surge in new cases threatened to overwhelm the health care system in some areas.

  • Currently, the U.S. is experiencing about 1,750 deaths and about 25,000 confirmed new cases per day, with little decline throughout the month of April despite mitigation practices.
  • "There remains a large number of counties whose burden continues to grow," the report warns.
  • Some urban areas like New York City and Detroit have seen improvement, but the modeling suggests other cities like Los Angeles and Chicago will see a surge in cases.

What they're saying: The CDC did not immediately respond to a request for comment. White House spokesperson Judd Deere provided the following statement:

“This is not a White House document nor has it been presented to the Coronavirus Task Force or gone through interagency vetting. This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force or data that the task force has analyzed. The President’s phased guidelines to open up America again are a scientific driven approach that the top health and infectious disease experts in the federal government agreed with. The health of the American people remains President Trump’s top priority and that will continue as we monitor the efforts by states to ease restrictions.”

Read the full report.

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Overall, new coronavirus infections in the U.S. are on the decline. But a small handful of states, mainly clustered in the South, aren't seeing any improvement.

The big picture: Our progress, nationwide, is of course good news. But it's fragile progress, and it’s not universal. Stubborn pockets of infection put lives at risk, and they can spread, especially as state lockdowns continue to ease.