UPDATED Jan. 16, 2021, at 8:00 AM

Where The Latest COVID-19 Models Think We're Headed — And Why They Disagree

Models predicting the potential spread of the COVID-19 pandemic have become a fixture of American life. Yet each model tells a different story about the loss of life to come, making it hard to know which one is “right.” But COVID-19 models aren’t made to be unquestioned oracles. They’re not trying to tell us one precise future, but rather the range of possibilities given the facts on the ground.

One of their more sober tasks is predicting the number of Americans who will die due to COVID-19. FiveThirtyEight — with the help of data compiled by the COVID-19 Forecast Hub — has assembled 11 models published by scientists to illustrate possible trajectories of the pandemic’s death toll. In doing so, we hope to make them more accessible, as well as highlight how the assumptions underlying the models can lead to vastly different estimates. Here are the models’ U.S. fatality projections for the coming weeks.

Forecasts like these are useful because they help us understand the most likely outcomes as well as best- and worst-case possibilities — and they can help policymakers make decisions that can lead us closer to those best-case outcomes.

And looking at multiple models is better than looking at just one because it's difficult to know which model will match reality the closest. Even when models disagree, understanding why they are different can give us valuable insight.

Coronavirus is hard to understand. FiveThirtyEight can help.

How do the models differ?

Each model makes different assumptions about properties of the novel coronavirus, such as how infectious it is and the rate at which people die once infected. They also use different types of math behind the scenes to make their projections. And perhaps most importantly, they make different assumptions about the amount of contact we should expect between people in the near future.

Understanding the underlying assumptions that each model is currently using can help us understand why some forecasts are more optimistic or pessimistic than others.

    State-by-state breakdown

    Below are individual forecasts for all 50 states and the District of Columbia.

    Alabama

    6,030 deaths as of Jan. 15

    Alaska

    229 deaths

    Arizona

    11,040 deaths

    Arkansas

    4,263 deaths

    California

    33,002 deaths

    Colorado

    5,343 deaths

    Connecticut

    6,594 deaths

    Delaware

    1,002 deaths

    District of Columbia

    842 deaths

    Florida

    23,799 deaths

    Georgia

    12,138 deaths

    Hawaii

    317 deaths

    Idaho

    1,603 deaths

    Illinois

    19,873 deaths

    Indiana

    9,246 deaths

    Iowa

    4,257 deaths

    Kansas

    3,489 deaths

    Kentucky

    3,061 deaths

    Louisiana

    8,080 deaths

    Maine

    477 deaths

    Maryland

    6,494 deaths

    Massachusetts

    13,509 deaths

    Michigan

    14,550 deaths

    Minnesota

    5,918 deaths

    Mississippi

    5,411 deaths

    Missouri

    6,436 deaths

    Montana

    1,086 deaths

    Nebraska

    1,837 deaths

    Nevada

    3,698 deaths

    New Hampshire

    908 deaths

    New Jersey

    20,320 deaths

    New Mexico

    2,874 deaths

    New York

    40,637 deaths

    North Carolina

    7,933 deaths

    North Dakota

    1,395 deaths

    Ohio

    10,057 deaths

    Oklahoma

    2,925 deaths

    Oregon

    1,758 deaths

    Pennsylvania

    18,935 deaths

    Rhode Island

    2,005 deaths

    South Carolina

    6,037 deaths

    South Dakota

    1,629 deaths

    Tennessee

    8,311 deaths

    Texas

    31,693 deaths

    Utah

    1,472 deaths

    Vermont

    163 deaths

    Virginia

    5,656 deaths

    Washington

    3,903 deaths

    West Virginia

    1,733 deaths

    Wisconsin

    5,770 deaths

    Wyoming

    522 deaths

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