Harvard doctor says U.S. will hit 200,000 COVID-19 deaths by September

Although experts anticipated shutdown easing before the beginning of summer, they were split on what it would mean for COVID-19’s growth curve. 

In the thick of it, alongside protests and isolation-induced angst, researchers are now theorizing the worst. 

States that either ended commercial lockdowns prematurely or did not enforce them all that rigidly, to begin with, are currently experiencing dramatic spikes in coronavirus transmissions. 

New Mexico and Florida evidenced a 40% increase in COVID-19 cases this week, while Utah and Arkansas cases increased by 60%. As of the time of this writing, Arizona transmissions have reportedly risen by 93%. 

It’s true that increased contact tracing explains some of the sharp increases in confirmed cases in the U.S, however, surging hospitalization statistics suggest other urgent variables.

“That’s coming from just more people getting sick and needing hospital care,” Dr. Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute,  explained in a release this morning. “We’ve been so behind in our testing approach for months that we were missing most of the cases out there … As testing’s gotten better, we’ve identified more cases. Testing is a part of the story but certainly doesn’t explain the whole thing.”

The countermeasures established by The Coronavirus Task force were meant to ensure recovery rates outpace deaths and transmissions before the development of a vaccine. 

Between 800 and 1,000 Americans die of COVID-19 per day, and between 25,000 to 30,00 succumb to the respiratory disease per month.

“Sometime in September, we’re going to cross 200,000, and we still won’t be done,” Dr. Jha continued. “This pandemic is going to be with us until next spring or summer when we have a vaccine. We don’t have to live with hundreds of thousands of Americans dying. We do have to get people to wear masks. We do have to do as much social distancing as possible. And while we’ve gotten better on testing, we’re nowhere near where we need to be … We really need the federal government to step in and decide that it doesn’t want to have hundreds of thousands of Americans dying and help states ramp up testing and tracing. That’s the other piece of this that’s still missing.”

COVID-19 therapeutics are on the fast track. Extraordinary developments have been achieved in the last five months. 

We know how SARS-CoV-2 penetrates host cells. We know how the virus responds to supportive pharmaceuticals, we know how long its incubation period generally lasts, and we have a pretty good grasp on the populations that are disproportionately affected by it. 

Sadly, vaccinology is a complicated science. Experts have to devise a shortlist of immunogens that disrupt a virus’s replication process while not posing a risk to hosts of varying medical backgrounds. 

Even with every academic resource devoted to this one cause, we won’t likely see meaningful results until sometime next year. 

“Let’s do everything in our power to get the virus under control,” Dr. Jha concluded. “I think we can, we absolutely can. I don’t want a lockdown. Nobody does. The key, though, is to be “proactive. If we just act like the virus isn’t there … we’re going to be confronting a much uglier reality, and I don’t want to do that.”

 CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at cheadley@theladders.com