ISU Professor's Models Point To Higher Death Toll As Lockdowns Are Eased | WGLT

ISU Professor's Models Point To Higher Death Toll As Lockdowns Are Eased

May 18, 2020

An Illinois State University researcher who's been staring at coronavirus data since early January says his estimates point to an even higher death toll than some of the mostly widely cited national models.

ISU Professor Olcay Akman said, if lockdown orders are relaxed as planned, the U.S. should expect between 170,000 and 200,000 deaths by the end of July to mid-August.

“What we’re seeing now is in the states where the lockdowns or shelter-in-place policies are relaxed, there’s now a spike showing in counties where the public is allowed to mingle again. That, I’m afraid, will contribute to the total number of dead,” said Akman.

"Coronavirus is a textbook case of an infectious-disease epidemic ... it's exactly what we teach in our biomathematics courses."

Akman is the head of ISU’s biomathematics program and editor–in–chief of the Letters in Biomathematics scientific research journal published at ISU. His journal recently accelerated the review process to more quickly publish research about the pandemic.

“Coronavirus is a textbook case of an infectious-disease epidemic, the way it spreads, the way it’s contracted by individuals in the populationc — it’s exactly what we teach in our biomathematics courses," Akman said.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is tracking several different models that project death tolls for COVID-19. One of the most cited is the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington. It’s projecting around 147,040 deaths by Aug. 4. There already are more than 90,000 deaths reported nationwide.

Models are based in part on the number of new infections estimated to stem from a single case — a number called R0 (pronounced “R-naught). The commonly accepted R0 for the coronavirus is between 2-4, Akman said. One of Akman's models pegs it at 5, due in part to the reported numbers of false-negative tests for COVID-19.

Akman also is aware of some who feel the death toll has been inflated because of outlier cases in which someone has tested negative, but still been counted.

“I don’t think those types of cases dominate the count. And also, for every miscount like that, there are also many cases where some patients died of coronavirus, but they were never tested. They were never listed as coronavirus deaths. I don’t think it would change the numbers that much," he said.

Akman said Illinois’ early enactment of its stay-at-home order was highly successful.

“It was one of the better policy decisions, because the ICU bed deficit was very minimal. Even at the peak of the infection, ICU bed deficit — the difference between available and needed ICU beds — was in the low hundreds,” Akman said. “Right now, estimated projected ICU beds needed is below available ICU beds. That’s good news.”

Illinois has seemingly “just passed the peak” for COVID-19, Akman said. Illinois reported 51 new deaths on Sunday — one of the lowest daily totals in recent weeks.

Akman said he expects Illinois’ daily death toll to fall to the single digits by early August.

Read COVID-19 articles from Letters in Biomathematics online.

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