Carl Bergstrom, professor of biology, has been quoted in two recent New York Times articles about the COVID-19 pandemic.
WASHINGTON — The top government scientists battling the coronavirus estimated on Tuesday that the deadly pathogen could kill 100,000 to 240,000 Americans as it ravages the country despite social distancing measures that have closed schools, banned large gatherings, limited travel and forced people to stay in their homes.
Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, and Dr. Deborah L. Birx, who is coordinating the coronavirus response, displayed that grim projection at a White House briefing, calling it “our real number” but pledging to do everything possible to reduce it.
The new government estimates came to the same conclusion that other researchers have: that even with the isolation efforts already underway to limit the spread of the coronavirus, infections are almost certain to soar, straining the ability of hospitals to care for infected patients and leading to a growing number of deaths.
One of those models, created by scientists at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, predicts that deaths from the virus in the United States will rise rapidly during April, reaching a total of about 84,000 by the beginning of August.
The model uses the severe lockdown in Wuhan, China, to calibrate how the outbreak might play out in the United States. That approach has some critics because control measures imposed in the United States have generally been less stringent than those in Wuhan. “If we fail at those measures, we face outcomes far worse than any included in the range of possibilities predicted by their model,” said Carl T. Bergstrom, a professor of biology at the University of Washington.
As many as 25 percent of people infected with the new coronavirus may not show symptoms, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns — a startlingly high number that complicates efforts to predict the pandemic’s course and strategies to mitigate its spread.
In particular, the high level of symptom-free cases is leading the C.D.C. to consider broadening its guidelines on who should wear masks.
Rapid tests for infection might help detect people, especially health care workers, who are infected yet feel normal. Masks may help. But experts kept returning to social distancing as the single best tool for stopping the chain of transmission in the long term — not lockdowns, necessarily, but canceling mass events, working from home when possible and closing schools.
“We can’t assume that any of us are not potential vectors at any time,” Dr. Bergstrom said. “This is why even though I’m feeling great, and have felt great and haven’t been exposed to anybody with any symptoms of anything, that’s why it would be irresponsible of me to go out and about today.”