When will the coronavirus peak? It's complicated

The coronavirus has made its way across the U.S., with New York and Washington reporting confirmed cases in the thousands.

As of 10 a.m. CDT on March 20, there were 14,250 American coronavirus cases reported in the U.S. and 205 deaths.

The U.S. government is preparing for an 18-month pandemic, and with resources like hospital beds, ventilators and surgical masks in short supply, hospitals and ASCs are canceling elective surgery and turning to telemedicine for virtual visits. Many are asking the question: When will the number of coronavirus cases peak?

It depends on many different factors.

On March 17, Anthony Fauci, MD, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a press conference that the country could see a peak in 45 days from then, or around May 1, according to CNN, in the best-case scenario.

According to the MIT Technology Review, the CDC has tapped a group at Carnegie Mellon University, which was designated a National Center of Excellence for Influenza Forecasting last year, to organize forecasting for COVID-19. The lab pinpoints the rise and fall of cases by combining three models:

• A nowcast predicting the current number of people infected based on historical data from the CDC and partners such as Google
• A proper forecast taking the nowcast information and historic CDC data into account 
• A proper forecast based on crowdsourced opinion

The team is adapting its methods for predicting the flu spread to COVID-19 and apply machine learning to make the projection. The team is also considering methods for incorporating data from other countries that were hit earlier into its machine-learning models. It is updating projections with new numbers every week and will revise the model to close gaps between the current numbers and original predictions, according to the report.

Head of the CMU's machine learning department Roni Rosenfeld told Vox that he expects the peak to come sometime in April or May.

New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo echoed the 45-day peak projection in a press conference on March 17 and said the state would need up to 110,000 hospital beds; the state currently has 53,000 hospital beds and 3,000 ICU beds, according to Business Insider.

Market Watch reported that public health experts are examining whether COVID-19 will change with the weather; the warm weather typically suppresses influenza, but it is unclear whether the same would be true for COVID-19. Many states are also taking social distancing measures, closing restaurants, schools and other public gatherings to stem the spread of the disease. If these measures work to flatten the curve, the peak could be less severe and come later than if there is no intervention.

CDC officials and epidemic experts told the New York Times that the worst-case scenario would extend the coronavirus cases in the U.S. over months, or even a year, with 200,000 to 1.7 fatalities as well as 2.4 million to 21 million hospitalizations, without intervention.

More articles on healthcare:
Life after COVID-19 — What the pandemic + an impending recession could mean for ASCs
ASCs may be key players in COVID-19 cases
ASCs being used by hospitals to treat COVID-19 patients: 3 things to know

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