Fauci, Birx Sound an Optimistic Note

They hold out hope for "beating the models"

At yesterday’s White House coronavirus briefing, Anthony Fauci, MD, and Deborah Birx, MD, sounded a bit more optimistic about the course of the COVID-19 outbreak and the much-talked about flattening of the curve of its gravest consequences.

Fauci referenced charts that New York Governor Andrew Cuomo had shown at his daily press briefing earlier in the day that showed that the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations, ICU admissions, and intubations were doing down in the New York state. Cuomo also said the number of deaths in his state had been  “effectively flat” for two days.

Fauci, as usual, was careful to clothe his statements in qualifications.

“Those are the kind of good signs that you look for- you never, ever begin to think about claiming victory prematurely - that is the first thing you see when you start to see the turnaround.”

At previous briefings, Birx has shown projections of between 100,000 and 240,000 deaths based on models of the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and the illness it causes.

Related: 100,000-200,00 COVID-19 Deaths. Where Does That Estimate Come From?

Speaking of social distancing and the other mitigation efforts, Birx said, “Dr. Fauci and I both strongly believe that if we work as hard as we can over the next several weeks we will see potential go under the numbers predicted by the models.”

Fauci said “data always trumps models” and said, “I am optimistic - always cautiously optimistic that if we do what I have been talking the past few minutes [he had been talking about mitigation efforts] we can make the numbers go down. I don’t accept every day that we’re going have 100-200 thousand deaths. I think we can really bring that down, no matter what the models say.”

Birx has referred to the model of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington several times during the White House briefings over the past week. As of this morning the IHME model was showing the daily death toll from COVID-19 peaking on April 16 at 3,130 and then a sharp drop the second half of April so by May 1, the daily number of deaths from COVID-19 would be 971. The IMHE group is projecting that the cumulative number of deaths will be 81,766 by August 4, a figure on the low end of the range of predictions that disease modelers are making. 

A chart that Cuomo showed at his press conference showed that the number of COVID-19-related hospitalizations in New York State had fallen sharply from 1,427 on April 2 to 358 on April 5.

Cuomo said, “The big question we are looking at now is ‘What is the [shape] of the curve.” He then showed slides of several possible pattern, including a peak followed by sharp fall and a peak that results in a fairly long plateau.