UMass team forecasts 130,000 COVID-19 deaths in US by July 4

  • Northampton firefighter Matt Burrell holds a NIOSH N95 health care particulate respirator and surgical mask, part of his personal protection equipment (PPE). Photographed at the department's headquarters on March 25. FILE PHOTO

Staff Writer
Published: 6/16/2020 10:14:51 AM
Modified: 6/16/2020 10:14:46 AM

NORTHAMPTON — The latest projections by a UMass COVID-19 forecasting team predict that 130,000 Americans will have died of the disease by July 4.

So far, 114,000 Americans have already died due to the virus — by far the highest death toll of any nation — and researchers at the COVID-19 forecast hub based at the University of Massachusetts Influenza Forecasting Center of Excellence estimate between 5,000 and 6,000 people will die per week over the next four weeks.

“It’s a sobering reality that this is how many deaths we’re facing on a regular basis going into the summer,” said UMass biostatistician Nicholas Reich, who leads the research team.

“Sometimes we have 20,000 deaths due to flu in an entire flu season, and we’re facing that number here in sort of a post-peak month of the COVID-19 outbreak,” he noted.

In Massachusetts, the model predicts around 8,200 deaths by July 4. So far, 7,454 people in the state have died of the disease as of Wednesday. Nationwide and state-by-state projections can be viewed at

According to the team’s preliminary analyses, the forecasting model “has been able to correctly predict the number of deaths that we could expect from COVID-19 up to four weeks ahead,” Reich said.

“It hasn’t been dramatically wrong yet,” he said, though “that’s not to say that there won’t be some new curve ball that it or the component models going into it won’t understand. There’s still so much about this situation that is changing every day,” from political decisions to protests against police brutality and racial violence. The protests have drawn crowds of thousands nationwide following the killing of George Floyd, a black man from Minnesota who died after a white police officer kneeled on his neck for almost 9 minutes on Memorial Day.

“The protests are a huge wild card for what comes next for COVID-19, and all of the upheaval in society from differing levels of reopening to the ongoing protest make the job of projection harder,” Reich said.

While Massachusetts has one of the highest numbers of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country, the state is “coming down from a very clear outbreak peak,” Reich said, “and Massachusetts is one of just a handful of states like this. So, to some extent, the models are fairly confident that things will continue to decline, although they do not rule out the possibility that we will see an uptick in a few weeks.”

The COVID-19 forecast hub uses forecast models from 14 different research groups from around the world to predict the course of the pandemic for up to four weeks. Some of these models attempt to account for factors such as mobility and social distancing policies, though Reich said that predicting how closely people will follow these guidelines is a challenge.

Based on the different models, the forecast projects a 10 percent chance of the U.S. experiencing fewer than 126,000 COVID-19 deaths by July 4, and a 10 percent chance of more than 136,000 deaths within this same period.

The country’s confirmed 114,000 COVID-19 deaths so far reflect grimly on initial predictions. After the World Health Organization declared the virus a pandemic in March, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, predicted later that month that COVID-19 could ultimately kill 100,000 to 200,000 Americans. In early April, Fauci lowered this estimate to around 60,000, based on widely employed social distancing measures.

While some experts Reich spoke with did make much higher estimates at that time, many were limited by looking at a single model to make predictions, Reich said, leading to inaccurate forecasts.

As states reopen their economies, Reich urged caution, even where COVID-19 cases are trending downward.

“This is not over, and we have to remain vigilant and expect more cases and more deaths before we’re done with this,” Reich said, adding that even in Massachusetts, the virus “is lying in wait for us to let our guard down.”

Jacquelyn Voghel can be reached at

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