Health and Wellness

This is when Covid-19 cases are projected to peak in a worst-case scenario, according to researchers


Worst-case scenario, Covid-19 cases could peak around Jan. 20 — the same day as President-elect Joe Biden's inauguration ceremony in Washington D.C.

On that day, the number of daily Covid-19 infections could reach over 1 million, according to the latest projection from the Institute of Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), an independent global health research center at the University of Washington. (IHME estimates are total infections, meaning whether or not they are confirmed by tests.)

But the Jan. 20 peak projection reflects "the worst-case scenario in our modeling, if states do not re-impose any social distancing mandates," according to a IHME spokesperson. The number does assume a vaccine rollout — in this case a 90 day rollout with 3 million doses delivered per day, starting on Dec. 15 for Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, Dec. 22 for the Moderna vaccine and Jan. 7 for the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine. (None of the vaccines have yet received emergency use authorization from the Food and Drug Administration but Pfizer's and Moderna's vaccines are expected to soon.)

If states were to re-impose social distancing mandates (which under IHME's model are enforced when a state reaches the level of eight daily deaths per million of that state's population), the projected number of daily infections is reduced to about 448,000 on Jan. 20, according to the model. (Some states, like California, have begun re-instituting lockdown measures.)

Under a scenario with a more rapid vaccine rollout — assuming 6 million vaccines distributed daily over 45 days — and social distancing mandates, the peak would be 526,000 daily infections by Dec. 26, according to the projection.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, who last week accepted the offer to serve as President-Elect Biden's chief medical adviser, told Newsweek in a feature published Saturday that January is going to be a tough month.

"I think January is gonna be terrible, because you're gonna have the Thanksgiving surge super-imposed upon the Christmas surge. So it's entirely conceivable that January could be the worst," Fauci told Newsweek. Fauci added that he believes Americans will see Covid cases increase this week and next from Thanksgiving.

As for the inauguration perhaps coinciding with a Covid-19 peak, Paige Waltz, communications director for the Joint Congressional Committee on Inaugural Ceremonies (JCCIC), which is made up of House and Senate lawmakers who plan the inauguration ceremony, says the committee is working on "a layered approach in terms of health and safety measures" that includes masks, social distancing and testing, "specifically for anyone on the platform near the president-elect."

"The attendance and ticketing process is being assessed in order to provide an Inaugural that is as safe and inclusive as possible," Waltz says. And the JCCIC is "continuing to monitor the situation, and will make adjustments accordingly."

On Friday, President-Elect Biden said his staff is currently consulting with public health experts as they formulate their plans for Inauguration Day, but he said the ceremony will likely emulate the virtual Democratic National Convention held in August.

"There probably will not be a gigantic inaugural parade down Pennsylvania Avenue," Biden said. "But my guess is you'll see a lot of virtual activity in states all across America, engaging even more people than before."

As of Tuesday, new confirmed daily Covid cases in the U.S., as a seven-day average, are at an all-time high of more than 200,000, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. There have been 14.95 million confirmed cases of Covid-19 in the U.S. with at least 284,000 deaths, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University.

As spokesperson for President-Elect Joe Biden did not immediately respond to CNBC Make It's request for comment regarding IHME's projection.

Correction: This story has been corrected to reflect that under a scenario with a rapid vaccine rollout and social distancing mandates, the peak would be 526,000 daily infections by Dec. 26, according to the IHME projection.

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