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4:13 PM, Feb 27, 2020

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Mobility data prompts IHME to up coronavirus death projections

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Posted at 6:55 PM, May 12, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-12 18:55:26-04

Nearly 147,000 people in the US are expected to die from coronavirus-related illnesses into August, according to updated guidance released on Tuesday by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The model gives a range of estimated deaths between 113,000 and 226,000 from the beginning of the outbreak through August 4.

The IHME’s model has been adjusted upward in recent weeks as states begin reopening measures, and more Americans are leaving their homes. Last month, the model projected 60,000 US coronavirus-related deaths through August 4.

As of Tuesday, more than 82,000 people have died from the coronavirus since early March, according to Johns Hopkins University data.

Driving the models is mobility data, which has shown more Americans leaving their home in recent weeks. In the United States, the IHME uses data from four sources – Google, Facebook, Descartes Labs and SafeGraph -- to determine mobility.

“Each source has a slightly different way of capturing mobility and recent changes,” an IHME spokesperson said. “For Google, change in mobility is captured for six categories based on movement to places (e.g., workplaces, residential) and is benchmarked against median values of corresponding days of the week from January 3 to February 6, 2020. For Facebook, change in mobility is based on trips from different start and end locations relative to the median for the 45-day period preceding the first day Facebook had data for that location.

“For SafeGraph, change in mobility is based on the percentage change in devices not “completely home” relative to a baseline of February 8 to 14, 2020. And for Descartes Labs, change in mobility is based on median of the maximum distance traveled for samples in a given location relative to a baseline of February 17 to March 3, 2020.”

The IHME’s model has been one frequently cited by the White House and state-level officials. Beyond death tolls, the models also projects hospital bed, ventilator and ICU utilization.

But one variable is how those are utilizing mitigation efforts, such as mask wearing, despite being more mobile.

“As with all our forecasts, these will be routinely updated and new data added as it is available,” IHME director Chris Murray said on Tuesday. “As social distancing mandates are lifted, we will be better able to understand whether behaviors, such as mask-wearing, can counteract increased mobility and keep cases down to prevent a prolonged pandemic.”

The models show the number of coronavirus deaths in the US slowly declining on a per-day basis through August. Originally, models projected that the per-day death count would see a sharp decline by early May.

To see a state by state breakdown of the model, click here.

Justin Boggs is a writer for the E.W. Scripps National Desk. Follow him on Twitter @jjboggs or on Facebook .