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White House projects 100K to 240K US deaths from virus

President Donald Trump stands next to a graph during the daily coronavirus task force briefing in the Brady Briefing Room at the White House on March 31, 2020, in Washington. (Win McNamee/Getty Images)

WASHINGTON (AP) — President Donald Trump on Tuesday warned Americans to brace for a “hell of a bad two weeks” ahead as the White House projected there could be 100,000 to 240,000 deaths in the U.S. from the coronavirus pandemic even if current social distancing guidelines are maintained.

Public health officials stressed that the number could be less if people across the country bear down on keeping their distance from one another.

“We really believe we can do a lot better than that,” said Dr. Deborah Birx, the coordinator of the White House coronavirus task force. That would require all Americans to take seriously their role in preventing the spread of disease, she said.

Added Dr. Anthony Fauci, the government’s top infectious disease expert, “This is a number that we need to anticipate, but we don’t necessarily have to accept it as being inevitable.”

Trump called it “a matter of life and death” for Americans to heed his administration’s guidelines and predicted the country would soon see a “light at the end of the tunnel” in a pandemic that has killed more than 3,500 Americans and infected 170,000 more.

“I want every American to be prepared for the hard days that lie ahead,” Trump said.

“This is going to be one of the roughest two or three weeks we’ve ever had in our country,” Trump added. “We’re going to lose thousands of people.”

The jaw-dropping projections were laid out during a grim, two-hour White House briefing. Officials described a death toll that in a best-case scenario would likely be greater than the more than 53,000 American lives lost during World War I. And the model’s high end neared the realm of possibility that Americans lost to the virus could approach the 291,000 Americans killed on the battlefield during World II.

“There’s no magic bullet,” Birx said. “There’s no magic vaccine or therapy. It’s just behaviors. Each of our behaviors, translating into something that changes the course of this viral pandemic.”

Fauci called the numbers “sobering” and urged Americans to “step on the accelerator” with their collective mitigation efforts.

“We are continuing to see things go up,” Fauci said. “We cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working and will work.”

Birx said pandemic forecasts initially predicted 1.5 million to 2.2 million deaths in the U.S. But that was a worst-case scenario, without efforts to slow the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing. She added that states that have not yet seen a spike in cases as New York has could take action to flatten the curve of rising hospitalizations and deaths.

It’s not only social distancing that could make a difference, but also the frantic efforts by hospitals around the country to prepare for an onslaught of seriously ill patients. The better prepared hospitals are, the greater the chances of lives being saved.

There’s also a wild card when it comes to treatment: whether the experimental drug combination Trump has touted — a medicine for malaria and an antibiotic — will actually make a difference. That combination is already being used on thousands of patients, and Fauci said he would want to see a rigorous test of its effectiveness.

Trump’s comments came after he announced Sunday that he was extending to April 30 the social distancing guidelines that advise Americans to cease large gatherings, work from home, suspend onsite learning at schools and more in a nationwide effort to stem the spread of the virus.

It was an abrupt reversal for Trump, who spent much of last week targeting April 12 as the day he wanted to see Americans “pack the pews” for Easter Sunday services.

Trump called the data “very sobering,” saying it was his understanding that 100,000 deaths was a minimum that would be difficult to avoid. He also sought to rewrite his past minimization of the outbreak, saying he rejected those who compared the new coronavirus to the flu — when in fact he repeatedly did so publicly.

“This could be hell of a bad two weeks,’” Trump said. He added: “You know 100,000 is, according to modeling, a very low number. In fact, when I first saw the number … they said it was unlikely you’ll be able to attain that. We have to see but I think we’re doing better than that.”

Trump played down concerns from New York’s Andrew Cuomo and other governors that their states’ hospitals don’t have enough ventilators to treat an anticipated crush of patients. Trump said the federal government currently has a stockpile of 10,000 ventilators that it plans on distributing as needed.

“Now, when the surge occurs, if it occurs fairly evenly, we’ll be able to distribute them very quickly before they need them,” Trump said. “But we want to have a reserve right now. It’s like having oil reserves.”

Birx said the experiences of Washington state and California give her hope that other states can keep the coronavirus under control through social distancing. That’s because they moved quickly to contain the early clusters of coronavirus by closing schools, urging people to work from home, banning large gatherings and taking other measures now familiar to most Americans, she noted.

“I am reassured by looking at the Seattle line,” she added. “California and Washington state reacted very early to this.” Many other states and local governments already have stiff controls in place on mobility and gatherings.

Trump said he would also ask Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis to allow the docking of two cruise ships with passengers who have had contact with patients suffering from COVID-19. Passengers are anxious to disembark once they reach Florida, but DeSantis said the state’s health care resources are already stretched too thin to take on a ship’s coronavirus caseload.

“They’re dying on the ship,” Trump said. “I’m going to do what’s right, not only for us for but humanity.”

Trump also said he planned to curtail his travel for the month ahead and stay close to the White House to safeguard his health. The president hasn’t held one of his signature big-stadium rallies since early March, and it’s unlikely he’ll be holding another one anytime soon.

“I think it’s important that I remain healthy. I really do,” Trump said. “So for the most part we’re staying here.”

Trump spoke after another troubling day for the stock market, which has been in a free fall as the cononavirus ground the economy to a near-halt and left millions unemployed. The Dow Jones Industrial Average plunged more than 400 points, or roughly 1.9%, to seal the worst first-quarter finish of its 135-year history.

Indiana coronavirus timeline

  • March 6: Indiana State Department of Health (ISDH) confirms the first case in Indiana. Officials say the Marion County resident had recently traveled to Boston to attend a BioGen conference as a contractor.
  • March 8: ISDH confirms a second case. An adult in Hendricks County who had also traveled to the BioGen conference was placed in isolation. Noblesville Schools announces that a parent and that parent’s children will be self-quarantining after attending an out-of-state event where someone else tested positive.
  • March 9: ISDH’s total of positive cases rises to 4. Avon Community School Corp. had announced on March 8 that a student tested positive; that case, along with another in Noble County, was confirmed by state health officials at a news conference.
  • March 10: ISDH’s total of positive cases rises to 6 as the state launches an online tracker. Purdue and Indiana universities suspend classes for two weeks beyond their spring breaks. Ball State University basketball fans learn the Mid-American Conference tourney will have no fans in the stands. Three businesses operating nursing homes in Indiana announce they will no longer allow visitors.
  • March 11: ISDH confirms four more positive cases in Indiana. The University of Indianapolis announces it will extend its ongoing spring break through March 22. The Indianapolis-based NCAA announces the men’s and women’s Final Four basketball tournaments will be conducted with essential staff and limited family attendance. The Big Ten announces all sports events, including the men’s basketball tournament at Bankers Life Fieldhouse, will have no fans starting March 12. Ball State University announces classes are suspended for the rest of the spring semester. NBA suspends all games, including the Indiana Pacers, until further notice. Butler University extends its spring break, after which it will go to virtual classes.
  • March 12: ISDH’s total of positive cases rises 12. Taylor University cancels international and domestic spring break trips for students and faculty sponsors. Indianapolis’ annual St. Patrick’s Day Parade is canceled. Gov. Eric Holcomb announces new protections that led to extended public school closings and the cancellation of large events across the state. The league including the Indy Fuel hockey team suspends its season. Indy Eleven says it will reschedule four matches, including its April 4 home opener. The NCAA cancels the men’s and women’s basketball tournaments. The Big Ten suspends all sporting events through the winter and spring seasons.
  • March 13: Gov. Holcomb announces additional actions — they included eliminating Medicaid co-pays for COVID-19 testing and lifting regulations limiting the number of work hours per day for drivers of commercial vehicles — to help stop the coronavirus. Wayzata Home Products, a Connersville cabinet maker, shut down and lays off its entire workforce due to market uncertainty associated with the coronavirus. The Indiana High School Athletic Association postpones the boys basketball tournament. Franklin College says it will have no in-person classes March 16 and 17, start online classes March 18 through at least April 5 and empty residence halls of students by 5 p.m. March 15. The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis says it will be closed March 14-28. The Indianapolis Public Library joins other libraries across Indiana and says it will close all facilities until further notice beginning at 5 p.m. March 14.
  • March 14: ISDH’s total number of positive cases rises to 15. The Indiana Gaming Commission says all licensed gaming and racing operations will close 14 days starting March 16.
  • March 15: ISDH’s total number of positive cases rises to 19, with 121 tested. St. Vincent Hospital in Indianapolis announces all elective, non-urgent surgeries are canceled as of Tuesday.
  • March 16: Gov. Eric Holcomb announces the first Hoosier death. ISDH’s total number of positive cases rises to 24. Holcomb closes bars, restaurants and nightlubs to in-person patrons, while carryout and delivery services will still be allowed.
  • March 17: ISDH announces the second Hoosier death. Indiana’s Catholic bishops announce the cancellation of Sunday and weekday public masses. Gov. Holcomb activates the National Guard to assist as needed with the virus response. Purdue, Butler and Indiana State universities cancel May commencement ceremonies.
  • March 18: ISDH’s total number of positive cases rises to 39. Eli Lilly and Co. says it will use its labs to speed up testing in Indiana for SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. The 500 Festival announces suspends all planned, in-person events scheduled through May 9. Simon Property Group closes all malls and retail properties until March 29.
  • March 19: ISDH’s total number of positive cases rises to 56. Gov. Holcomb extends Indiana’s state of emergency into May. Holcomb says all K-12 public schools will be closed until May 1 and nonpublic schools also are to close. Standardized testing was canceled. The state’s income-tax and corporate-tax payment deadline was extended to July 15. Holcomb says the state will waive job search requirements for people applying for Temporary Assistance to Needy Families. The IHSAA Boys Basketball State Tournament was canceled. The Marion County Emergency Operations Center upgrades to Level 1 status.
  • March 20: ISDH reports the third Hoosier death and 23 new cases for a total of 79. Gov. Holcomb moves the state’s primary election to June 2. Indiana University says it is postponing May commencement ceremonies on all campuses. Indiana University Health says it can do limited virus testing.
  • March 21: ISDH reports the fourth Hoosier death, and 47 new cases positive for a total of 126. A total of 833 people have been tested for the virus. Indiana National Guard details how it’s working with the Department of Transportation on distribution of medical supplies to hospitals.
  • March 22: Indiana’s death toll rises to 7. ISDH reports 75 more positive cases.
  • March 23: ISDH reports 259 cases of COVID-19, up from 201 a day earlier. Gov. Holcomb orders Hoosiers deemed nonessential to “stay at home” from March 24-April 7. Eli Lilly & Co. begins drive-thru testing for the coronavirus for health care workers with a doctor’s order. Ball State University cancels the May commencement.
  • March 24: Indiana’s death toll rises to 13. Fred Payne of Indiana Workforce Development says any Hoosiers out of work, including temporary layoffs, are eligible to apply for unemployment benefits.
  • March 25: Indiana’s death toll rises 17. Indianapolis Motor Speedway announces the Indianapolis 500 is moved to Aug. 23. IndyGo suspends fares and changes its ride schedules.
  • March 27: Indiana’s death toll rises to 25. Marion County adds 192 new positive COVID-19 cases, the most of any county in the state for the day, for a total of 484. Indiana has 981 confirmed cases.
  • March 28: Indiana’s death toll rises to 31. Marion County adds 100 new cases, the most of any county in the state, for a total of 584. Indiana has 1,232 confirmed cases.
  • March 29: Indiana’s death toll rises to 32. Marion County adds 92 new positive cases, the most of any county in the state, for a total 676. Indiana has 1,514 confirmed cases. President Donald Trump announces in a press conference that the national social distancing recommendation will be extended by 30 days, to end April 30.
  • March 30: Indiana’s death toll rises to 35. Marion County had the most new cases in the state with 135, for a total of 804. Indiana health commissioner Dr. Kris Box predicted the arrival of the surge in cases and deaths could come in mid-April to late April, but could be as late as mid-May, “but we don’t know.”
  • March 31: Indiana’s death toll rises to 49. Gov. Holcomb extends the limits of bars and restaurants to offer only “to go” and “carry out” through April 6. Health commissioner Box, asked about when Indiana will be in a surge of COVID-19 cases, says she thinks the surge is starting.
  • April 1: Indiana’s death toll rises to 65. Officials extend Marion County’s “stay at home” order through May 1. Marion County health officials say they will start COVID-19 testing services for frontline employees.The Children’s Museum of Indianapolis says it will remain closed until further notice. Gov. Holcomb announces the #InThisTogether campaign.
  • April 2: Indiana’s death toll rises to 78. The state announces K-12 schools will be closed for the rest of the school year. The Indiana High School Athletic Association cancels spring sports seasons.
  • April 3: Indiana’s death toll rises to 102. Gov. Holcomb extends the “stay at home” order through April 20. Indiana officials say the state has received a federal Major Disaster Declaration for all 92 counties. The Indiana National Guard says it, the Army Corps of Engineers and state health officials will begin on Saturday to assess sites for alternate health care facilities.
  • April 4: ISDH reports 14 more deaths, bringing the state’s total to 116. 3,953 Hoosiers have tested positive, with 116 deaths and 19,800 total tests conducted. 
  • April 5: ISDH reports 11 more deaths in Indiana.
  • April 6: Indiana’s death toll rises to 139. The state reports one Madison County nursing home has had 11 deaths. Gov. extends the “stay at home” order through April 20. He also limits additional businesses to carry-out only.
  • April 7: Indiana’s death toll rises to 173. A total of 5,507 Hoosiers have tested positive. Indiana health commissioner Box notes four long-term care facilities have 22 deaths that appear to be related to COVID-19.
  • April 8: Indiana surpasses 200 deaths. Indiana now has 203 deaths and 5,943 confirmed cases. A total of 30,869 Hoosiers have been tested.
  • April 9: ISDH says 6,351 Hoosiers have been tested positive, resulting in 245 deaths. A total of 32,133 Hoosiers have been tested.
  • April 10: ISDH says 6,907 Hoosiers have tested positive for COVID-19, resulting in 300 deaths. A total of 35,040 Hoosiers have been tested. ISDH said 24 residents of a long-term care facility in Madison County have died from COVID-related illness.
  • April 11: 30 more deaths are announced, bringing Indiana’s total to 330.
  • April 12: A total of 343 Hoosiers have now died due to COVID-19, according to ISDH. Just under 8,000 cases have been confirmed in Indiana.
  • April 13: Indiana stands at 350 deaths and 8,236 positive coronavirus cases, according to ISDH.
  • April 14: ISDH announces 313 more cases and 37 more deaths, bringing the totals to 8,527 positive cases and 387 deaths.
  • April 15: ISDH announces 49 more deaths for a total of 463. The total of positive cases grows to 8,955.
  • April 16: Indiana reports 477 deaths and 9,542 positive cases. The governor says he expects Indiana to experience a reopening in early May.
  • April 17: ISDH reports 519 deaths and 10,154 positive cases. The governor says that he will be extending the stay-at-home order through May 1, although some restrictions may be lifted in the new order.
  • April 18: ISDH reports 26 more deaths. ISDH says there are now 10,641 positive cases and 545 Hoosiers have died as a result of the virus.
  • April 19: 17 more Hoosiers have died according to ISDH, bringing Indiana’s total to 562.
  • April 20: ISDH reports seven new deaths. ISDH says there are now 11,686 positive cases and 569 deaths related to the virus. Holcomb extended the “stay at home” order to May 1. The governor also said, if the medical supply chain is in good shape, other elective medical procedures can resume April 27.
  • April 21: Indiana reports more than 12,000 positive cases and more than 600 deaths.
  • April 22: Indiana reports 12,438 COVID-19 cases and 661 deaths. The Tyson facility in Logansport voluntarily closes so 2,200 employees can be tested for COVID-19.
  • April 23: Indiana reports 13,039 COVID-19 cases and 709 deaths.
  • April 24: Indiana reports 13,680 COVID-19 cases and 741 deaths. The Indianapolis City-County Council unanimously approved $25 million in an emergency meeting to help small businesses. Fishers City Council creates a city health department with a plan to test every resident.
  • April 25: Indiana reports 14,395 COVID-19 cases and 785 deaths. ISDH launched an antibody testing study for Hoosiers on Saturday. Thousands of residents were randomly selected to participate in the study.
  • April 26: Indiana reports 15,012 positive COVID-19 cases and 813 total deaths.
  • April 27: Indiana reports 15,961 positive COVID-19 cases and 844 total deaths.
  • April 28: Indiana reports 16,588 positive COVID-19 cases and 901 total deaths. Indiana officials say they are opening up COVID-19 testing to more Hoosiers, with expanded criteria and new testing services at 20 sites around the state.
  • April 29: Indiana reports 17,182 positive COVID-19 cases and 964 total deaths. The state said it will spent $43 million on contact tracing.
  • April 30: Indiana reports 17,835 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,007 total deaths. Indianapolis extends its stay-at-home order through May 15.
  • May 1: Indiana reports 18,630 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,062 deaths. Gov. Eric Holcomb announces a phased reopening plan for the state of Indiana. He also extends the stay-at-home order to May 4.
  • May 2: Indiana reports 19,295 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,115 deaths.
  • May 3: Indiana reports 19,993 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,132 deaths.
  • May 4: Indiana reports 583 more COVID-19 cases and 19 additional deaths. The stay-at-home order ends for most of Indiana. That order will end May 11 in Lake and Marion counties, and May 18 in Cass County.
  • May 5: Indiana reports 21,033 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,213 deaths.
  • May 6: Indiana reports 21,870 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,264 deaths. Ivy Tech Community College says it will continue virtual classes when summer courses begin in June.
  • May 7: Indiana reports 22,503 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,295 deaths.
  • May 8: Indiana reports 23,146 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,328 deaths. Cris Johnston, director of the Office of Budget and Management, said the state missed out on nearly $1 billion in anticipated April revenues. All state agencies will be given budget-cutting goals.
  • May 9: Indiana reports 23,732 positive COVID-19 cases and 1,362 deaths.
  • May 10: Indiana reports 24,126 COVID-19 cases in Indiana and 1,379 deaths.
  • May 11: Indiana reports 24,627 COVID-19 cases in Indiana and 1,411 deaths.
  • May 12: Indiana reports 25,127 COVID-19 cases in Indiana and 1,444 deaths.
  • May 13: Indiana reports 25,473 COVID-19 cases in Indiana and 1,482 deaths. The first phase of a state-sponsored study of the coronavirus estimated about 186,000 Hoosiers had COVID-19 or the antibodies for the novel virus by May 1. Indianapolis Mayor Joe Hogsett announced plans for limited reopenings of worship services, retail establishments, the libraries and restaurants.

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