Missouri already has reached peaks in hospital resource use and single-day deaths during the first wave of the COVID-19 pandemic and could begin easing social distancing policies as early as the first week of June, according to the most recent projections of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

The institute at the University of Washington School of Medicine in Seattle released its latest COVID-19 forecasts on Friday, including analysis of when individual states might be able to start relaxing social distancing policies such as stay-at-home orders and the closing of schools and nonessential services.

The institute reports that four states — Vermont, West Virginia, Montana and Hawaii — may be able to ease up on some social distancing measures as early as May 4.

Other states, including Oklahoma, Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, Utah, and North and South Dakota, may have to hold off until late June or early July.

The institute warned that state-by-state decisions to relax social distancing measures should be informed by metrics showing less than one prevalent infection per 1 million people. IMHE further advised that various containment strategies — widely implemented testing for the virus, contact tracing and isolation of confirmed cases — will need to be implemented as social distancing policies are rolled back.

The latest global data gathered by IMHE and fed into its projection model suggests that daily COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. may have peaked Wednesday at 2,481 deaths. The figure does not include some presumptive COVID-19 deaths reported Thursday by New York City.

The institute now estimates that the U.S. will suffer 60,308 deaths because of the illness by Aug. 4, including 362 in Missouri, 187 in Kansas, 359 in Oklahoma and 158 in Arkansas. Missouri was projected by the model as recently as Monday to see 1,713 COVID-19 deaths in the first four months of the pandemic. According to the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services, the state had suffered 152 deaths by Friday.

The projections change with the input of additional data about how the pandemic is progressing in the various states and other countries and with the inclusion of new types of data that IHME researchers feed into the model. For instance, the most recent estimates incorporate new data regarding the mobility of residents in the U.S. obtained from cellphone use. That data informs the projections with a take on how well stay-at-home orders are working in different locations.

The IMHE forecast for COVID-19 deaths nationwide through Aug. 4 has been steadily dropping since late March when its model projected a death toll of 93,765. The forecast had been for 81,766 deaths on April 5 and for 68,841 on estimates released this past Monday.

“We are seeing the numbers decline because some state and local governments, and, equally important, individuals around the country, have stepped up to protect their families, their neighbors and friends and co-workers by reducing physical contact,” IMHE Director Christopher Murray said in a news release.

“Now, the challenge — as well as opportunity — is for states to figure out how to reopen the U.S. economy and allow people to get back to work without sacrificing that progress. Relaxing social distancing too soon carries great risks of a resurgence of new infections. No one wants to see this vicious cycle repeating itself.”

Missouri and Kansas are projected to fall in the next to last group of states able to meet the institute’s suggested metric of one infection per 1 million people for easing of social distancing. Other states in that group include the hard-hit states of New York, New Jersey and Connecticut, as well as Texas and Florida.

The latest IHME projections now suggest that Missouri reached its peak use of hospital resources for COVID-19 cases on Wednesday and its peak in the daily death toll on Tuesday at 26. Early in the epidemic’s surge into the U.S., the institute projected Missouri as one of the last states to reach peaks in those categories, suggesting the illness would not peak here until late May.

The model continues to project no shortages of either hospital beds or intensive-care-unit beds in Missouri throughout the first wave of the pandemic. The model projected 474 hospital beds needed with an availability of 7,933 beds in the state when hospital use peaked Wednesday. Use of 108 of the 558 available ICU beds was projected the same day.

Missouri — the 18th most-populous state — is currently projected by the model to rank 20th among the states in the number of COVID-19 deaths through Aug. 4, one rung below Mississippi at 369 and one above Oklahoma at 359, the 28th ranked state in population.

State death tolls

The projected COVID-19 death toll in the state of New York through Aug. 4 has risen from 15,618 in forecasts released by the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation on April 5 to 21,812 in estimates released Friday.

The institute’s deaths estimate for New Jersey has been lowered from 9,690 to 6,952 in the intervening 12 days and for Massachusetts from 8,254 to 3,236. Other states seeing significant lowering of projected death figures include Florida, Connecticut and Georgia.

Michigan, which had ranked eighth in projected deaths at 2,963, now comes in third highest at 3,304.

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