Researchers cut projected COVID-19 death toll in NC

The coronavirus could infect as many as 750,000 people in North Carolina by the end of May if social distancing policies are not extended past April, according to a predictive model unveiled Monday by scientists from Duke and UNC-Chapel Hill.

The model, which is the composite of three models, predicts that 250,000 people in North Carolina could be infected if social distancing policies were extended throughout May.

The model is not an official product of Duke or UNC, but of the individual scientists who worked to aid the state. It was developed with the help of Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina, NoviSci and RTI International, in addition to the universities.

There are currently more than 2,900 confirmed cases of coronavirus in North Carolina and more than 35 people have died from the disease. The state’s first case was reported on March 2.

The model suggests that there is a greater than 50% chance of exceeding hospital and ICU capacity if social distancing policies are not extended beyond their current end of April date. If current or similar policies were enacted beyond their current end date, that probability drops to around 20%.

The state’s projection comes as a model created by University of Washington researchers has dramatically cut the number of deaths it predicts in North Carolina. Researchers at the school’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation now think about 500 people will die from COVID-19 in North Carolina, down from the more than 2,400 they predicted just a week and a half ago.

Those initial projections came before Gov. Roy Cooper instituted a statewide stay-at-home order and banned gatherings of more than 10 people.