Researcher Behind Model Predicting 3,000 Daily Deaths Claims It Was Not ‘Intended to Be a Forecast’

Airman First Class Sarah Howard, 159th Medical Group, Louisiana Air National Guard, writes triage information on a patient’s car windshield at the triage section of a drive-through community based COVID-19 coronavirus testing site at Louis Armstrong Park in New Orleans, La., March 20, 2020. (Senior Master Sergeant Dan Farrell/US Air National Guard)

The researcher who developed a model predicting a steep surge in the country’s coronavirus cases and deaths has said that he was not aware that his work, which “was not in any way intended to be a forecast,” had been drafted into a government report.

The data, first reported on Monday, warned that the U.S. would spike to 200,000 new cases and 3,000 deaths per day by June 1 — increases of 700 percent and 70 percent respectively. It was compiled into an interagency report and leaked first to the New York Times. In response to the Times report, the White House emphasized that the model was not developed by its coronavirus task force and therefore had not received the administration’s approval.

“This is not a White House document, nor has it been presented to the Coronavirus Task Force or gone through interagency vetting. This data is not reflective of any of the modeling done by the task force, or data that the task force has analyzed,” the White House said in a statement Monday.

Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins and the creator of the model, reinforced the government’s claim that the data was taken out of context. He explained that the report was a draft and delivered as a work-in-progress to officials within the Federal Emergency Management Agency.

“I had no role in the process by which that was presented and shown,” Lessler told the Washington Post. “It was not in any way intended to be a forecast.”

Lessler added that the projections depended largely on the government’s ability to reopen the country safely. “There are reopening scenarios where it could get out of control very quickly,” he admitted.

While he didn’t address the specific figures, Former FDA commissioner Scott Gottlieb appeared to endorse the model’s prediction of an increase in deaths and cases as state economies begin to reopen.

“While the model’s assumptions are unclear, and therefore its estimates uncertain, we should expect cases to rise as we re-open aspects of economy,” Gottlieb wrote.

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