How overly optimistic modeling distorted Trump team’s coronavirus response

The U.S. is now expected to blow past the 60,000 mark around the beginning of May, earlier than the IHME model had projected and with less of the dramatic leveling-off that its forecast had initially baked in.

In retrospect, public health experts said, the sudden downward shift in IHME’s numbers that gave the Trump administration, governors and some health professionals the confidence to float reopening the country by summer was also a prime example of the model’s inherent limitations — and the risk of relying on any model to accurately predict how a virus that scientists are still scrambling to understand will behave in the real world.

“You can’t oversell the models, and you have to view them within the correct context,” said Jeffrey Shaman, a coauthor of Columbia University’s coronavirus model, who warned of the difficulty in making projections based “on a highly fluid situation for which the information is woefully incomplete.”…

“The IHME model is an odd duck in the pool of mathematical models,” said Gregg Gonsalves, an epidemiologist at the Yale School of Medicine. “I fear the White House is looking for data that tells them a story they want to hear, and so they look to the model with the lowest projection of death.”