Professor behind top coronavirus model credits 'safe distancing' for lower death projection as states reopen

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The University of Washington professor behind one of the most influential modelings of the coronavirus pandemic shared "encouraging news" on "Bill Hemmer Reports" Thursday after the university's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) announced a slight drop in the number of projected COVID-19 related deaths.

"We are projecting now 72,000 deaths until August 4th, and this came down a little bit from the earlier projection because we were concerned, when some of the social distancing would be lifted, that people would move about much more than we expected," " Dr. Ali Mokdad told Hemmer.

"It seems [that] as they are increasing their mobility, they are practicing safe distancing as they are doing it, so this is very encouraging news."

On Monday, the IHME projected more than than 74,000 coronavirus-related deaths in the United States by Aug. 4, an increase of nearly 6,000 deaths from its previous model. Mokdad initially predicted a surge in cases as states began loosening coronavirus-induced lockdowns, but the public's strong adherence to social distancing guidelines exceeded expectations, prompting the IHME to drop their predictions by approximately 2,000 deaths in the new model.

"It seems as they are increasing their mobility, they are practicing safe distancing as they are doing it, so this is very encouraging news."

— Dr. Ali Mokdad, 'Bill Hemmer Reports'

DOCTOR BEHIND TOP CORONAVIRUS MODEL PREDICTS MORE DEATHS AS STATES REOPEN

"We noticed an increase in mobility and suspected that would increase mortality," Mokdad. "The expected deaths weren’t as big as we expected, so it seems as they are going out, they are practicing social distancing."

Mokdad admitted that the model had underestimated the death toll during the earlier stages of the outbreak, referencing an earlier appearance on "Bill Hemmer Reports" where he projected 60,000 deaths in the same time frame.

"We are counting more deaths because states are adding presumptive deaths, so we changed the way we defined mortality," he said. "In my opinion, we were underestimating early on.

"Now we may be overestimating," Mokdad cautioned before adding that he stands by his April 10 statement that "the worst is behind us as a country."

"We are now at a place where we are considering how we will reopen our businesses, we have some news on the vaccination front, so it’s very positive for this and hopefully we can all celebrate July 4 together," Mokdad said.

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When Hemmer asked Mokdad what he model's vision of "winning [the fight against coronavirus] looks like," the doctor said he'd consider victory achieved when the country reaches a point of "zero deaths."

"How America has won in my opinion [is] when we don’t [have] mortality," Mokdad explained. "Losing loved ones, zero deaths, we are winning and we are preparing for the second wave if it comes and the possibility it may come -- so we are ready for it and we have a vaccine."