KEY POINTS

  • There are far more actual deaths from COVID-19 than the number reported by various reliable sources
  • The death toll is set to increase once the expected "second wave" of infections sets in during the fall
  • The lack of testing also means more accurate projections of infections and deaths are impossible

The number of estimated deaths in the United States due to COVID-19 has been significantly expanded. The death toll is set to increase once the expected "second wave" of infections sets in during the fall.

The increase was made to the widely-used statistical model developed by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington, which was first released to the public April 2. The updated IHME death toll released Monday now estimates 72,433 fatalities (estimate range: 59,343 to 114,228 across) the U.S. by Aug. 4.

IHME's previous update to its model was made public April 22 and projected 67,641 deaths (estimate range: 48,058 to 123,157) by Aug. 4. In contrast, the original model released April 2 predicted anywhere from 100,000 to 240,000 deaths from the disease until September.

The actual U.S. death toll as of 11:12 p.m. ET Wednesday evening stood at 61,669, based on Worldometer data. This real world fatality number means the updated IHME estimate of 72,433 deaths by Aug. 4 is already unrealistic. More than 2,000 new deaths in the U.S. have been reported every day since Sunday. The death toll will exceed 74,000 by late next week should the 2,000 daily new deaths continue.

Health experts and statisticians agree the actual number of deaths is larger than either the data revealed to the public or those in estimates due to discrepancies in the way hospitals record data. There's also the fact many excess deaths in residential homes and other places such as care homes for the elderly haven't been reported as being caused by COVID-19.

IHME said its Monday update was due, in part, to “many states experiencing flatter and thus longer epidemic peaks.” The update was also due to data showing daily coronavirus deaths “are not falling very quickly after the peak, leading to longer tails for  many states’ epidemic curves.”

“In combination -- less abrupt peaks and slower declines in daily  COVID-19 deaths following the peak -- many places in the U.S. could have higher cumulative deaths from the novel coronavirus,” said the new IHME report. The first revision to the original April 2 model predicted COVID-19 will kill 81,766 people in the U.S. until Aug. 4.

Dr. Christopher Murray, who developed the model and who's also an IHME director, said the consequences for the U.S. might be dire if social distancing measures were relaxed or ignored too soon.

"The US will see greater death tolls, the death peak will be later, the burden on hospitals will be much greater and the economic costs will continue to grow," he said in early April.

Across California there have been over 25,500 cases, including at least 783 deaths, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University Across California there have been over 25,500 cases, including at least 783 deaths, according to a count from Johns Hopkins University Photo: AFP / Robyn Beck