360 coronavirus patients will die in RI by end of April, new model suggests


PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — A new statistical model that aims to forecast the future of the COVID-19 pandemic projects 360 Rhode Islanders who have the disease will die by the end of the month, more than double the state’s current death toll.

The model was created by researchers at the University of Texas at Austin, and offers an alternative to the widely cited University of Washington model that has gained national influence but also been criticized for some of its assumptions.

The University of Texas model supports Gov. Gina Raimondo’s assertion Monday that Rhode Island has not yet seen the peak of the pandemic, contrary to a comment Vice President Mike Pence made Sunday night at the White House.

The Texas researchers say there is only a 44% chance Rhode Island has already passed the peak of the outbreak, but a 74% chance the peak will happen within the next week and a 95% chance it will happen within the next two weeks. Raimondo’s stay-at-home order expires soon after that milestone, on May 8, and she has said she hopes to begin lifting restrictions at that point.

Like all models, the University of Texas forecast offers a range of potential outcomes: it expects anywhere from 279 to 495 Rhode Islanders infected with COVID-19 will die by the end of the month. The official death toll was 155 as of Monday, according to the R.I. Health Department.

The University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation currently projects 319 Rhode Islanders will die due to COVID-19 by the end of the month. Its minimum forecast of 112 deaths has already been surpassed; its worst-case scenario is 1,121 deaths.

Raimondo released the state’s own modeling of the pandemic’s path for the first time last Thursday, suggesting roughly 2,000 Rhode Islanders would die due to COVID-19 through October, but she has said the actual outcome is likely to turn out better as social distancing and other policies help.

In Massachusetts, the University of Texas model says it’s even less likely COVID-19 deaths have already peaked, but suggests an 87% chance the peak will be reached within a week and a 98% chance it will be reached within two weeks.

The Texas researchers project over 3,000 Massachusetts residents will die due to COVID-19 by the end of April; more than 1,800 had died as of Monday.

Ted Nesi (tnesi@wpri.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook

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