Modeler Defends IHME Projections, Credits Social Distancing

April 10, 2020 Updated: April 10, 2020

One of the professors behind a major model that has twice been revised in recent days defended initial projections and said the shifts came after Americans practiced social distancing.

“Americans are doing their part and staying at home and social distancing is working,” Ali Mokdad, professor of Health Metrics Sciences at the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME), said during an appearance on Fox News’ “The Story” on Thursday night.

The IHME has stated that its projections were reached “assuming full social distancing through May 2020.” Mokdad argued modelers didn’t factor in people staying home and taking other measures before statewide lockdowns were ordered.

“It was factored in, but for states that came later, it was clear that people living in those states, where there was no order to stay at home, they were practicing social distancing,” he said, citing Florida. In other states, like Washington and California, early measures helped reduce the projected number of deaths, he said.

Questioned on how Japan has done so well with the COVID-19 pandemic despite not ordering a lockdown, Mokdad twice declined to answer, instead asserting that Italy and China both had high mortality rates when they didn’t implement strict measures.

Epoch Times Photo
Employees of a restaurant wearing masks stand outside their eatery before it opens in the Chinatown area in Yokohama on April 9, 2020. (Philip Fong/AFP via Getty Images)

The IHME model was one of the models cited when federal officials ordered what amounted to a national lockdown recommendation. Its projections have come under increased scrutiny for its substantial revisions. Projected deaths in the model dropped from 93,531 to 60,415 while peak hospitalizations, ventilator use, and intensive care unit needs also decreased, in some cases by tens of thousands.

Modelers have argued that the model is getting more accurate as fresh data is incorporated after initially relying on figures from Wuhan, China. China’s communist regime has repeatedly manipulated numbers linked to the pandemic, according to internal documents obtained by The Epoch Times.

Modelers later began adding more information from Spain and Italy, two of the hardest-hit nations in the world, before using data from healthcare systems in the United States.

“As data comes in, our estimates will change, much like weather forecasts adjust,” the IHME said in a statement on Thursday.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a federal health official, told reporters on Thursday about the shifting model: “That’s a sign that when you take the data that you have and you reinsert it into the model, the model modifies.”

“The data is real, the model is a hypothesis,” he added.

The IHME’s daily death counts have been accurate on some days but its hospitalization estimates have regularly been wrong, overestimating the need for hospital resources. In New York, that contributed to hospitalizations appearing to peak far below projections.

When the IHME updated its model on April 5, it had already overshot estimates for 15 of the 18 states that release daily hospitalization data.

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A view of people exercising in Central Park during the COVID-19 pandemic in New York City on April 9, 2020. (Cindy Ord/Getty Images)

The IHME didn’t respond to a request by The Epoch Times for comment.

One theory behind the model regularly overestimating deaths and other metrics is the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus, commonly known as novel coronavirus, circulating in America for longer than is now thought. If so, more people would have been infected and built immunity to the virus.

The first case in America was confirmed in January but some estimates have pegged the start of the spread as late last year.

The virus first emerged in China. The earliest report now known of a case there was in November 2019.

Asked about that theory, Mokdad said during his interview that researchers don’t know when the virus was first in the United States. He also said the projected deaths will drop even further “if more Americans are practicing social distancing.”

Petr Savb contributed to this report.

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