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Research group Trump administration previously touted releases dire COVID-19 death toll projections

There could be 400,000 additional coronavirus deaths this year in the United States, according to one forecast model.
Residents stand in a queue to register their names as a health worker wearing Personal Protective Equipment suit collects a swab sample from a woman to test for the coronavirus, at a primary health center in Hyderabad, India, on Sept. 4, 2020.Noah Seelam / AFP - Getty Images

Nearly three million people will “most likely” die of COVID-19 worldwide by the end of the year if governments don’t tighten social distancing requirements and people aren’t more vigilant about wearing masks, a research outfit the Trump Administration once relied on is warning.

The death toll in the U.S., which is currently around 188,000, could more than double to over 400,000 by Jan. 1, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine is forecasting.

And that’s not even the “worst case” scenario the IHME laid out in its sobering report. In that model, four million people would die worldwide and over 620,000 perish in the U.S. from COVID-19, the researchers concluded.

In the “best case” scenario, two million people will be dead across the globe by the end of the year and there will be anywhere from 257,286 to 327,775 COVID-19 fatalities in the U.S.

"The worst is yet to come," IHME Director Dr. Christopher Murray warned on a call with reporters Friday.

“We are facing the prospect of a deadly December, especially in Europe, Central Asia, and the United States,” Murray said in a statement released earlier. “But the science is clear and the evidence irrefutable: mask-wearing, social distancing, and limits to social gatherings are vital to helping prevent transmission of the virus.”

Partly funded by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, the IHME was criticized in the early days of the pandemic for providing optimistic projections on the progress of the pandemic that President Donald Trump and his team touted as evidence the U.S. was getting COVID-19 under control — and which turned out to be wrong.

Right now, the “most likely” scenario is that 2.8 million people will die if “individual mask use and other mitigation measures remain unchanged,” Murray's team said.

In each of the IMHE models, the countries likeliest to lose the most people are India and the United States.

Currently, the United States has reported more than 188,000 deaths out of nearly 6.2 million confirmed cases, — both world-leading figures, the latest NBC News numbers show.

The U.S. now accounts for almost a quarter of the more than 26 million cases and about a fifth of the nearly 870,000 deaths worldwide, according to the Johns Hopkins University COVID-19 dashboard.

Brazil is next with 124,614 deaths followed by India, which has 68,472 on the dashboard.

Murray, in the IHME release, acknowledged that their scenarios represent “a significant increase over the current total deaths, estimated at nearly 910,000 worldwide.” But he said the pandemic is following “seasonal patterns similar to pneumonia which means countries in the northern hemisphere are likely to get socked again when the weather turns colder.

“People in the Northern Hemisphere must be especially vigilant as winter approaches, since the coronavirus, like pneumonia, will be more prevalent in cold climates,” Murray said.

In July, a top World Health Organization spokeswoman said the pandemic was not seasonal but rather "one big wave."

"This virus likes all weather," Dr. Margaret Harris said.

In other COVID-19 developments:

  • The U.S. economy added 1.4 million jobs last month and the unemployment rate fell to 8.4 percent — the first time it’s been below 10 percent since the beginning of the pandemic. “Great Jobs Numbers!” Trump boasted in a Tweet. Economists were far less impressed, NBC News reported. "We have had three huge months of job gains, but so far have regained less than half of the losses in March and April," said Dan North, senior economist at Euler Hermes North America. "Job gains so far have probably been the easy ones to get, where a business opened back up and brought back in its employees." Also, more layoffs are looming in hard-hit sectors like the airline industry, experts are warning.
  • The FBI and state investigators raided a Pennsylvania nursing home on Thursday where hundreds of residents and staff members tested positive for coronavirus and dozens have died. The Brighton Rehabilitation and Wellness Center. located northeast of Pittsburgh, had been flagged for dangerous conditions even before the pandemic, NBC News reported in April.
  • Florida has barred local health officials from releasing detailed information about new COVID-19 cases in public schools, the Orlando Sentinel reported. The newspaper discovered this while questioning the state health officer in Orange County about the "first potential case of student-to-teacher transmission“ "Because it’s confidential information, I can’t continue to release that data to the public in that format,” Dr. Raul Pino said. A spokesman for the Orange County public schools said they will continue releasing general pandemic information to the public. The schools recently reopened over the objections of teachers who say they're being forced to work in unsafe conditions, and as the state continues to rack up thousands of new cases every day. The Florida Department of Health has been accused of censoring the data to make the state’s numbers less awful and with ousting a whistleblower. The agency has denied the allegation.
  • Northeastern University in Boston gave 11 students 24 hours on Friday to pack up and leave for the rest of the semester after they were caught partying in a hotel room and violating the school's pandemic public health rules. Meanwhile, more colleges and universities were reporting new outbreaks. The University of Arizona reported its biggest new daily number of postive COVID-19 tests with 126 just on Thursday. Some 220 new positive cases were reported by the University of Nebraska this week. And over 1,000 students have tested positive for COVID-19 at Ohio State University, according to the school's official coronavirus dashboard.