More than 100,000 Americans may die from COVID-19, US officials say.

A patient in a hospital.
Medical cases can be equal parts fascinating and alarming. (Image credit: Shutterstock)

U.S. officials estimate between 100,000 and 240,000 Americans could die from COVID-19, even with the social distancing measures already in place to slow the outbreak's spread.

The next couple of weeks will be "very, very painful" and "rough," Trump said today during a White House briefing today (March 31). These estimates, based on various models, played a role in Trump's decision to extend guidelines for Americans to stay at home until April 30.

The models predict that without mitigation measures, between 1.5 million to 2.2 million people in the U.S. would die from COVID-19, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House's coronavirus response coordinator said during the briefing. But with social distancing and other mitigation efforts, those numbers can be brought down to several hundred thousand deaths. Still, that is "way too much," she said.

But "we can influence this to a varying degree" with mitigation efforts, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases said later on in the briefing. 

These estimates are generally in line with those from various research institutions around the world, according to the New York Times.

One model, from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, forecasts that the United States will see a rapid rise in COVID-19 deaths in the coming weeks, reaching its peak on April 15, with 2,214 deaths per day. Although the rate of deaths is predicted to slow down during the summer, total deaths could reach nearly 84,000 by the beginning of August. In that model, the upper bounds of the researchers' estimates was 152,000 deaths by Aug. 1.

That model also assumes that social distancing measures continue without interruption. "The trajectory of the pandemic will change — and dramatically for the worse — if people ease up on social distancing or relax with other precautions. We encourage everyone to adhere to those precautions to help save lives," Dr. Christopher Murray, director of IHME, said in a statement.

The analysis also predicts that 41 states will need more intensive care unit (ICU) beds than they currently have, and that 11 states could need to increase the number of ICU beds by 50% or more.

The model will be updated daily as a source of "real-time" information, the researchers said. 

"In the next couple of days to a week, "we're going to continue to see things go up we cannot be discouraged by that because the mitigation is actually working and will work," Fauci said. The goal is to help hotspots such as New York and New Jersey get around the curve, he added. But as importantly, "to prevent those clusters" in areas that have not yet spiked with such intensity.

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Rachael Rettner

Rachael is a Live Science contributor, and was a former channel editor and senior writer for Live Science between 2010 and 2022. She has a master's degree in journalism from New York University's Science, Health and Environmental Reporting Program. She also holds a B.S. in molecular biology and an M.S. in biology from the University of California, San Diego. Her work has appeared in Scienceline, The Washington Post and Scientific American.