Scientists are scrambling to determine the course of the coronavirus pandemic. Here are their best estimates of when the outbreak might turn a corner.

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Medical workers wearing personal protective equipment wheel bodies to a refrigerated trailer serving as a makeshift morgue at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center on Monday, April 6, 2020, in New York City.

  • It seems like everyone is waiting for the coronavirus "peak" to arrive in the US, or the day when the outbreak will be at its worst.
  • It's important to note that the virus won't be over after the peak. Around half of coronavirus cases are expected to come after the peak.
  • But when exactly that peak will come is unclear. It can change greatly depending on how well people abide by social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders.
  • While Morgan Stanley predicts the peak will come sometime in late May, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) says the country's peak will come in just a few days on April 11. A recent report by Imperial College London scientists predicts late May to early June
  • Read live updates about the coronavirus here

With more than 430,000 coronavirus cases, the US has more confirmed patients than any other country in the world. But researchers and scientists say the worst is yet to come.

Despite constantly changing predictions, due to factors like how well people abide by social distancing guidelines and stay-at-home orders, researchers seem to agree that the US can expect its nationwide peak, the period that the country will see the most people sick from the virus, to arrive sometime between the next few days to weeks.Advertisement

It's important to note that the virus won't be over after the peak. Around half of coronavirus cases are expected to come after the peak, and some officials are warning we could see more than one wave of coronavirus outbreaks. Still, the timing of the peak and the overall size of the outbreak have big implications for everyone in the US.

Different cities and states around the country will likely face their own smaller-scale peaks at different times, thanks to differences in when then outbreak started on different locations and when governments responded by shutting businesses and order people to stay home.

Analysts at Morgan Stanley said in an April 9 report that coastal cities like New York are likely to experience their peaks earlier, around mid-April. Others parts of the country will likely peak in the weeks afterward. The analysts recently tripled their projections for the number of people likely to be sickened by coronavirus in the US from 200,000 to 570,000.
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Read more: A leaked presentation reveals the document US hospitals are using to prepare for a major coronavirus outbreak. It estimates 96 million US coronavirus cases and 480,000 deaths.

IHME: We're at the peak

US officials have been referencing a model from scientists at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) as they describe the likely course of the outbreak. The model has been updated regularly, and now predicts the US peak for the coronavirus outbreak to occur this weekend.Specifically, the model projects tomorrow will be the day of maximum use of resources like beds and ventilators in US hospitals. The model projects deaths will peak in 2 days. The organization predicts over 2,200 deaths on that day, and about 60,000 in the US overall, down from earlier projections that were significantly higher.Advertisement

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, referenced IHME's estimates on NBC News' Today Show on Thursday morning.

The virus' death toll through early August may look "more like 60,000 than the 100,000 to 200,000" initially predicted, Fauci said.

"I think the American public have done a really terrific job of just buckling down and doing those physical separation and adhering to those guidelines," he said.Advertisement

"Having said that," he continued, "we better be careful that we don't say, okay, we're doing so well we could pull back. We still have to put our foot on the accelerator when it comes to the mitigation and the physical separation."

Read more: More than a dozen researchers predicted how the US's coronavirus outbreak will end. They estimated nearly 200,000 people could die by the end of the year.

Penn Medicine's CHIME Model: The peak could come as late as July

Projections can also vary widely depending on how analysts have assumed levels of social distancing. The model from IHME, for example, assumes "high levels of social distancing on par with that seen in China, Italy, and Spain," according to The Advisory Board, a firm that consults with healthcare organizations. Penn Medicine's COVID-19 Hospital Impact Model (CHIME) Model, on the other hand, assumes lower levels. Advertisement

Advisory Board : part 4 briefing

The Advisory Board

A comparison of the IHME and CHIME models

The difference is stark: whereas IHME's model predicts we're near the peak, the Penn model predicts one potentially as late as July, according to Christopher Kerns, vice president of executive insights at The Advisory Board.

"In a lot of ways you're looking at a best case scenario and a worst case scenario," Kerns said at a COVID-19 webinar on Thursday. "We see aggressive social distancing paying dividends in IHME model and ignoring those social distancing restrictions manifesting in the Penn distance model."Advertisement

Penn itself warns there's a high degree of uncertainty to how the outbreak will go: "Long-term projections made using this simplified model of outbreak progression should be treated with extreme caution."

Imperial College London: Peak in late May or early June, depending on social distancing

A report by Imperial College London on Tuesday said the spread of the virus in the US is growing rapidly and that the country can expect to see more than 5,000 deaths this week, alongside other countries like France, Italy, Spain, and the UK, that have been hit hard by the virus.In a report in mid-March that forecasted what could happen if the country made no efforts to slow the outbreak, the total estimated number of deaths stood at around 2.2 million, with the peak occurring in late May or early June, as previously reported by Business Insider's Aria Bendix. Advertisement

The researchers also outlined a more optimistic, yet still harrowing scenario.

Under their "mitigation" techniques scenario, which combines home isolation of suspect cases, home quarantine of those living in the same household as suspect cases, and social distancing of the elderly and others at most risk of severe disease, they said the US might reduce demand on the healthcare systems by two-thirds and deaths by half, as Business Insider's Lydia Ramsey previously reported.

That'd translate to about 1.1 to 1.2 million deaths in the US.Advertisement

Those mitigation strategies they said, would likely be in place for three months, with social distancing for those over 70 staying in place a month longer.

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