• Latest projection models call for a rapid rise in COVID-19 cases in the U.S. based on current restrictions
  • IHME says U.S. death toll could range from 410,000 to 620,000 on New Year's Day 2021
  • Winter weather forces more people indoors where the coronavirus is more easily spread.
  • Mask-wearing, social distancing and limiting social gatherings would greatly lower the fatality rate

The U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could range from 410,000 to 620,000 by the end of the year, according the latest statistical model, as officials fear colder fall and winter weather will keep more people indoors where the coronavirus thrives.

The dire prediction comes from Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington. The latest IHME models also estimate the U.S. death toll could rise to some 2,600 per day in December compared to the more than 1,000 daily deaths being reported today.

IHME, which accurately estimated the nation's current pace toward 200,000 deaths by October 1, based its latest projections on different assumptions: a most likely scenario, a worst-case scenario and a best-case scenario.

The most likely scenario sees COVID-19 leading to the deaths of 410,450 people by the end of the year if current restrictions continue. The worst-case scenario projects up to 620,028 deaths assuming states ease distancing restrictions and mask wearing. The best-case scenario, which is based on a yet-to-be issued universal mask mandate, predicts 288,380 people in the U.S. will die from the disease by New Years Day 2021.

IHME projects 12,000 daily deaths in the U.S. by Jan. 1, 2021 with mandates easing; 2,600 deaths based on current restrictions, and 1,970 with universal masks. IHME’s latest U.S. estimates are based on people spending more time indoors in the upcoming winter months. Indoor confinement will lead to a rapid increase in infections and deaths.

“The worst is yet to come,” said Dr. Christopher Murray, IHME director. "I don’t think perhaps that’s a surprise, although I think there’s a natural tendency as we’re a little bit in the Northern Hemisphere summer, to think maybe the epidemic is going away."

Murray warned people in the Northern Hemisphere to be especially vigilant as winter approaches since COVID-19 will be more prevalent in cold climates. He said daily new cases, both globally and in the U.S., will likely start rising October.

“We are facing the prospect of a deadly December, especially in Europe, Central Asia, and the United States,” noted Dr. Murray.

He asserted the science is clear and the evidence irrefutable that mask-wearing, social distancing, and limits to social gatherings help prevent transmission of COVID-19.

IHME pojects the global death toll, which now stands at 907,377, will rise to 2.8 million by year's end. The best-case scenario with widespread use of masks and other distancing measures forecasts a lower worldwide death toll of more than 2 million. The worst case scenario predicts 4 million total global deaths.

IHME models have been quite accurate in the past. In June, IHME forecasted 200,000 U.S. deaths by October 1. As of Thursday, the U.S. has recorded 191,731 deaths, according to John Hopkins University). The U.S. still leads the world in total case numbers and deaths.

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