That warning from Dr. Ashish Jha, who said the projection was based on a range of internal and external models, jolted some public health experts and even came a surprise to some top Biden administration officials, with sources telling CNN that the grim forecast — and details of where exactly that 100 million number had been derived from — was not discussed with some key officials intimately involved in the administration’s work to fight Covid before Jha’s TV interview over the weekend.
As of Thursday morning, the White House had not yet released the underlying data that it says supports its projection. A senior administration official had told CNN on Monday that the 100 million infection number is a moderate one that falls somewhere in the middle of more conservative and extreme projections and is based on an underlying assumption of no additional resources or extra mitigation measures being taken, including new Covid-19 funding from Congress, or dramatic new variants.
The timing of Jha’s announcement — as the White House is trying to pressure Congress to approve billions of dollars in new Covid funding — has also raised some concern among experts about whether political considerations were a driving factor behind making the public projection.
Michael Osterholm, an infectious disease expert and a former health adviser to Biden, told CNN he was concerned that Jha did not make public specific models that were used to project 100 million potential infections later this year, saying, “I don’t think Ashish has provided us with any data to support that.”
Osterholm took issue with the Biden administration making a Covid projection that spans the fall and winter, saying there are currently too many unknowns — including the possible development of new Covid variants — that could significantly change the trajectory of the pandemic in the months to come.
“The idea that you’re modeling six months out? It’s pixie dust. Six months ago we didn’t have Omicron,” Osterholm said, adding that he was concerned the public warning may have been driven too much by the desire to publicly pressure Congress to approve additional Covid money. The White House Covid team has been reaching out to modelers and experts over the past few weeks, collecting what one senior administration official described as “preliminary” and “early” data that ultimately led to Jha’s warning. The official predicted that many of those models that look ahead to the fall and winter were likely still weeks away from being finalized and shared with the public, and that they could still change.
The official also stressed to CNN that those efforts — as well as Jha’s warning about 100 million new infections — were “less about trying to predict” what might happen later this year. Instead, they were part of the administration’s “…….