UW-based global researchers forecast more than 371,000 COVID-19 deaths in U.S. by January

More than eight months after Washington’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, the push to curb the virus remains a tough task. An average of more than 10,000 tests are administered every day across the state. However, cases are again on the rise in some communities after two "rises and falls" of the pandemic's curve.

The latest projection from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation illustrates the death toll surging to 371,509 people in the U.S. by January 2021. Data from the global researchers, based at the University of Washington, forecast the surge in case numbers around the holidays.

Dr. Paul Pottinger is a professor of infectious diseases at the University of Washington’s School of Medicine. He said IHME’s projection was “sobering” and believes it’s the community’s responsibility to try to prove researchers wrong by doing a great job with individual self-care.

“The challenge is how do we do that on a national basis? Do we choose to listen to the best information we have from public health? Or, do we sick our head in the sand and pretend it’s not true? Remember, the virus doesn’t care. The virus doesn’t have a political agenda, it doesn’t have a Facebook page. All it does is it infects people. It’s there to take advantage of us if we make a mistake. So, we’re the ones that have to step up and realize this is really unpleasant. It’s awful, but it’s certainly something we can handle if we chose to do so,” said Pottinger.

While some communities are flattening the curve and seeing steady results, others are seeing an uptick in daily case numbers again. Pottinger said he believes people are getting too relaxed on the rules.

“The team here [UW Medical Center] is tired. We’re just tired from doing this work for such a long period of time. And we do not anticipate the pandemic to go away anytime soon. We do really appreciate people getting used to this—they don’t have to accept it forever, but for the foreseeable future to have this new normal and make it a new normal that is relatively straight forward. It may not be fun, but it shouldn’t be hard just to follow those simple rules. If people do that self-protection, self-care in the community, it makes it easier for us to do our job here,” said Pottinger.

Governor Jay Inslee spoke, Thursday, stating during his address that he was informed of an outbreak at student housing at UW. He said at least 91 cases were reported—the second-largest outbreak since students returned to campus. Inslee called the new uptick “alarming” and said it’s an example for everyone to step up efforts in reducing the spread of coronavirus.

“We're going to have to figure out how to enjoy our loved ones and people as we go inside—which frankly means distancing when you're visiting, which means wearing a mask, even when you're in your friend's home, particularly if you can't distance. These are new art forms if you will, new habits, new ways of socializing. If we do them we're going to stay on top of this virus. If we don't, we face real danger,” said Inslee.

Pottinger echoed a similar message—saying the public knows what needs to be done to flatten the curve in local communities, which would ultimately decrease case numbers statewide.

“It’s not fun, but it is simple and that’s as simple as covering our mouth and nose and giving each other at least six feet of personal space,” said Pottinger. “Even if something looks relatively good in a particular community, it could turn on a dime. That’s what we have seen over and over again nationally and also locally. If there’s relaxing of the way to people take this seriously that it would come back so very quickly.”