Publication date: 
April 17, 2020

New IHME COVID-19 Forecasts Show State-by-State Peaks

Analysis of When States May Ease Social Distancing So Long as

‘Robust Containment Strategies’ are Implemented


SEATTLE (April 17, 2020) – New COVID-19 state-by-state US analyses from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) find that as early as May 4, some states may be able to relax some aspects of social distancing measures so long as “robust containment strategies” are implemented to prevent a second wave of infections.

Those states include Vermont, West Virginia, Montana, and Hawaii. However, other states, including Iowa, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Utah, Arkansas, and Oklahoma, may need to wait until late June or early July.

Strategies for safely relaxing some social distancing include widely implemented testing, contact tracing and isolation of confirmed cases, and restricting large gatherings. Actual decisions by states to relax social distancing should be informed by meeting critical metrics closer to these dates, including a very low number of estimated infections in the community – less than 1 estimated infection per 1 million people.

IHME also announced that the number of daily COVID-19 deaths in the US may have peaked two days ago, April 15, with 2,481 deaths. The peak does not include earlier presumptive cumulative COVID-19 deaths reported yesterday by New York City. The Institute now is estimating 60,308 (estimated range of 34,063 to 140,381) deaths across the US by August 4, down from 68,841 as predicted on April 13.

“We are seeing the numbers decline because some state and local governments, and, equally important, individuals around the country have stepped up to protect their families, their neighbors, and friends and coworkers by reducing physical contact,” said IHME Director Christopher Murray. “Now, the challenge – as well as opportunity – is for states to figure out how to reopen the US economy and allow people to get back to work without sacrificing that progress. Relaxing social distancing too soon carries great risks of a resurgence of new infections. No one wants to see this vicious cycle repeating itself.”

Even with measures in place to prevent a rebound of infections, Murray said special consideration must be given to reducing the risk of reintroduction of COVID-19 from other states or countries. The forecasted dates when shifting from social distancing to new strategies could be safe are based on IHME’s estimates of when infections drop below 1 per 1 million people. Minimizing the risk of resurgence will be more likely if the number of remaining infections in the community is at a low level.

“Each state is different,” Murray said. “Each state has a different public health system, and different capabilities. This is not a ‘one decision fits all’ situation.”

IHME estimates for total US deaths have been revised downward based in part on newly available cell phone data that provide a window on mobility patterns. These data suggest that mobility and presumably social contact have declined in certain states earlier than the organization’s modeling predicted, especially in the South.

Murray emphasized such data do not include tracking the websites people access on their mobile devices, nor people’s conversations, text messages, or other personal use of their devices. Based on these data, forecasts for several states have been revised substantially. The model also no longer assumes any future changes in social distancing mandates.

In addition, Murray responded to criticism of IHME’s modeling as either too optimistic or too pessimistic by underscoring the variables inherent in any kind of forecasting, including health, economics, and the weather. IHME forecasts, the only regularly updated forecasts available on a state-by-state basis, are driven by data. As new data come in, forecasts are revised.    

“By its nature,” he said, “forecasting is only as accurate and reliable as the data one uses in the modeling. As the quality and quantity of our data increase, we will offer policymakers refined views of the pandemic’s course.” As new data on the trend in infections and deaths come in from states, the estimated dates for considering relaxing social distancing may move earlier or later. Likewise, greater state capacity to undertake testing and contact tracing should also influence state decisions on relaxing some aspects of social distancing.

Among other findings:

  • Current projections suggest that Sweden, Ireland, the Netherlands, and the UK could reach the peak of their COVID-19 epidemic within the next week.
  • Nationally, the predicted peak for daily COVID-19 deaths in the United States appeared to be on April 15 reaching 2,481.

With today’s new forecasts, IHME also has included information on two further social distancing procedures, for a total of six:

  • Stay-at-home order: “Individuals are ordered to stay at home and interactions between individuals from different households prohibited.”
  • Educational facilities closed: “Education has transitioned to remote-learning options.”
  • Non-essential services closed: “All stated non-essential services are clearly defined and ordered to cease operations.”
  • Travel severely limited: “Municipal-level travel restrictions are in place and movement is strictly limited to essential travel. Public transit options are reduced and international borders are closed.”
  • (NEW) Mass gathering restrictions: “Individuals are urged to not congregate en masse without a formal mandate.”
  • (NEW) Initial business closure: “Mandated closures of specific business types, such as recreational and fitness facilities, entertainment venues, personal care services, without calling for a more sweeping closure of non-essential businesses.”


For details on all findings, please see the accompanying estimation update and FAQ on our website.


NOTE: Hospital administrators, government officials, and others not associated with the news media may contact us here. 


IHME is grateful to the Microsoft AI for Health program for supporting our hosting of COVID-19 data visualizations in the Azure cloud. 


About the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation 

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) is an independent global health research organization at the University of Washington School of Medicine that provides rigorous and comparable measurement of the world’s most important health problems and evaluates the strategies used to address them. IHME is committed to transparency and makes this information widely available so that policymakers have the evidence they need to make informed decisions on allocating resources to improve population health.