COVID-19 graph

This graph projects how many people would die from the COVID-19 pandemic even if strict social-distancing orders, some of which Wyoming has not enacted, are undertaken by all states. 

Wyoming is 26 days away from a peak daily COVID-19 death rate of four people per day and could see a total of 143 deaths through Aug. 4, 2020, a statistical model used by a University of Washington researcher predicts.

The state's medical resources will be most strained May 3, 32 days from now, when it will face a shortage of 22 ICU hospital beds, according to the projections. Updated March 31, the model was used in an article published in medRxiv, and authored by Christopher J.L. Murray, professor of the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation, an independent global health research center at the University of Washington.

This study presents the first estimates of predicted deaths and health service for each state, a synopsis reads. The study and model used confirmed COVID-19 death data from the World Health Organization and information from local and national governments, among other sources, according to the IHME website.

"We are aware of numerous modeling tools that have been developed, some of which have the ability to incorporate Wyoming-specific parameters and assumptions," Wyoming Department of Health spokeswoman Kim Deti wrote WyoFile in an email Tuesday evening. "Several of these tools are currently being analyzed and evaluated by some of our key staff together with our partners to see how they may or may not be useful. But at this point we are not endorsing any specific modeling tool."

Researchers may have used data that differs from the state's official figures. The projection, for example, appears to state that Wyoming would have 1,069 hospital beds under an "all beds available" scenario. State officials have said the state has 1,400 beds.

Regardless, the model does not anticipate general hospital beds being a limiting factor for care at the projected peak of the need for resources on May 3. Intensive care unit beds, it predicts, will be more problematic. The model states that Wyoming has 44 ICU beds and would need 66 during the pandemic's peak, leaving a shortage of 22 ICU beds.

Wyoming's Pandemic Influenza Response Plan updated last summer projected that an influenza outbreak on the order of the 1918 pandemic could lead to 4,301 deaths. State officials have said that the influenza plan will guide the state's response to the COVID-19 pandemic. They, and the plan itself, caution that predictions carry great uncertainty.

"Our first priority is to increase our ability to use our available data to help with managing the crisis right now as much as possible," Deti wrote. "This includes the epidemiological data from testing and follow up, much of which is provided on our website. In addition, we are using and refining our estimates of Wyoming hospital and healthcare system capacity to make them more useful."

The model predicts Wyoming will need 53 ventilators. In predicting 143 deaths in Wyoming through Aug. 4, a graph in the model shows a cone of uncertainty that ranges from about 75 deaths to about 285.

For each state, the model includes information on state-mandated social distancing. Wyoming has not implemented a stay-at-home order, has not severely limited travel and has not closed non-essential services, the report states. Schools, restaurants, bars, barber shops, hair salons, tattoo parlors, gyms and other select enterprises have been closed by orders issued by the Wyoming health officer.

Officials, including Gov. Mark Gordon, have issued several other recommendations to stay apart from one another to limit the spread of the virus. Gordon on Monday asked the owners of grocery stores and other outlets to limit the number of people in a store at any given time.

Murray's projections included a nationwide estimate of 81,114 deaths in the next four months. A summary said that figure could be anywhere between 38,242 and 162,106. They are based on the assumption that states undertake strict social-distancing efforts, including enforceable orders.

The virus will have its peak impact in different states at different times, Murray wrote.

"In addition to a large number of deaths from COVID-19, the epidemic in the U.S. will place a load well beyond the current capacity of hospitals to manage, especially for ICU care," he wrote. The estimates can help states develop strategies to overcome the expected gap in resources, he wrote.

Actions to increase resources, such as postponing elective surgeries and finding more hospital beds "are urgently needed given that peak volumes [of patients] are estimated to be only three weeks away," he wrote. The predictions for hospital resource shortages "is predicated on the enactment of social distancing measures in all states that have not done so already within the next week," he wrote.

Those social-distancing measures must be maintained and enforced "throughout the epidemic ... to mitigate hospital system overload and prevent deaths."

WyoFile is an independent nonprofit news organization focused on Wyoming people, places and policy.

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