Biden administration officials recently tried to calculate the number of daily COVID-19 deaths Americans would “tolerate,” Politico reports.
Three people familiar with the administration’s discussions told the news outlet that a target of 200 or fewer Americans was considered before officials decided not to use it in pandemic planning.
The sources, who were granted anonymity to speak freely, described the conversations as exploratory, according to Politico.
Less than 200 deaths a day would equal approximately 73,000 deaths per year, which is slightly more than the number lost during a bad flu season.
After announcing the end of the pandemic last summer, only to have the delta and omicron variants appear, officials have been hesitant to publicize any metric, especially as the virus continues to mutate.
“They don’t want to say that it’s tolerable for 200 Americans a day to die,” one of the three people familiar with the matter told Politico.
According to the outlet, the source personally discussed the number with administration officials.
One of the sources involved in the discussions last year said it was difficult to determine what the American people would “tolerate.”
“Five hundred a day is a lot,” the person said. “You still have 9/11 numbers in a week. People generally felt like 100 [a day] or less, or maybe 200, would be OK.”
The idea never gained traction, however.
Cyrus Shahpar, the White House’s pandemic data director, told Politico that nailing down a number “doesn’t make sense from a public health perspective because it’s also about how long you’re able to maintain low numbers or low severity of illness.”
“Because these things are all changing, I think most experts would tell you it’s hard to have any kind of durable number … because the overarching goal for us is to drive down deaths,” he said. “There’s no point at which you give up trying to drive down deaths.”
“We’re not satisfied with the number of deaths we have now,” he continued. “I don’t really know why 200 would be a number that would be magically OK.”
Not since the pandemic’s first weeks have less than 200 Americans died per day at a sustained rate, Politico reports.
Last summer, during the country’s best stretch, an average of 230 Americans died each day from COVID-19.
For months, the Biden administration’s focus has centered on hospitalizations and deaths instead of infections, with messaging communicating to Americans that the virus is more manageable because of vaccines and treatments.