Dr. Fauci says coronavirus toll in China, Italy -- not models -- forced 'strong mitigation programs' in US

Coronavirus task force member Dr. Anthony Fauci told "The Story with Martha MacCallum" Friday that he has always been skeptical of models projecting the toll of the coronavirus pandemic in the United States.

"Models are only as good as the assumptions that you put into the model," Fauci. "And those assumptions that start off when you don't have very much data at all, or the data you have is uncertain, then you put these assumptions in and you get these wide ranges of calculations of what might happen."

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"But then as you start to accumulate data, [...] that's real data likely being influenced heavily by the mitigation programs that you put in the physical separations, when real data comes in, then data in my mind always trumps any model," Fauci added.

As of Friday evening, the influential model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evauation (IHME) at the University of Washington was projecting that 61,545 Americans would die of coronavirus by Aug. 4 of this year, assuming the practice of "full social distancing" was kept up through the end of May. Last week, the IHME model had projected more than 93,000 Americans would die of the virus over the same period.

Fauci made it clear that the early modeling wasn't the reason for "strong mitigation programs," but rather the high death tolls in China and Italy, two of the nations hardest-hit by the virus.

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"It isn't the model or the result of the model that really led to the decision to have such strong mitigation programs, such as physical separation," Fauci said. "You don't even have to look at any model. Just take a look at what happened in China. Take a look at what happened in northern Italy, how the hospitals were completely overrun and the draconian methods that had to be taken in China to turn down their outbreak."

President Trump on Friday said he believes the U.S. death toll from the coronavirus pandemic will be "substantially less" than the 100,000 projected last week, arguing the country is nearing the peak of the outbreak.

The IHME model projected that Friday would see the most U.S. deaths of any day of the pandemic -- 1,983, 10 more than were recorded yesterday. In all, more than 18,000 Americans are confirmed to have died from the coronavirus.

Fox News' Brooke Singman contributed to this report.