The official coronavirus death toll in the United States may be nearly 30 per cent higher than the reported count, scientists estimate.
The sobering assessment comes amid warnings daily cases in the US could more than double if Americans fail to take counter-measures.
So far, more than 2.7 million people in the US have been infected with the virus and more than 130,000 have died.
Now, a new peer-reviewed study suggests the real death toll – already the world’s highest by a significant margin – could be even worse.
As part of their research, American and Danish scientists estimated the number of COVID-19 deaths in the US between March 1 and May 30.
They found there were 122,300 more deaths than what would normally be expected in the US were there no pandemic.
That is 28 per cent higher than the official reported death toll of 95,235 for that period.
So how did so many deaths slip under the radar of authorities?
In several US states, many people died before the COVID-19 testing kits became widely available, they said.
This may account for the difference.
The grim finding comes after Anthony Fauci, the head of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, warned the daily increase in new cases nationwide could jump from 40,000 to 100,000 unless Americans wore face masks and practised social distancing.
“Clearly we are not in total control right now,” Dr Fauci said on Tuesday (local time).
“I am very concerned because it could get very bad.”
California, Texas and other states are reporting record increases in cases of the sometimes deadly illness caused by the coronavirus.
US buys up coronavirus drug
Meanwhile, the Trump administration has effectively bought up the world’s supply of remdesivir – a drug shown to work against COVID-19 – for the next three months.
The US Department of Health and Human Services said it had secured more than 500,000 treatment courses of remdesivir for American hospitals.
This represents 100 per cent of the US pharmaceutical firm Gilead’s projected production for July (94,200 treatment courses), 90 per cent of production in August (174,900 treatment courses), and 90 per cent of production in September (232,800 treatment courses), alongside an allocation for clinical trials.
HHS secretary Alex Azar said in a statement: “President Trump has struck an amazing deal to ensure Americans have access to the first authorised therapeutic for COVID-19”.
Remdesivir, an anti-viral drug initially developed for use against Ebola, has been approved for use in coronavirus patients by several countries including Australia after data suggested it could cut recovery time by about four days.
There is no clinical trial data as yet to suggest it improves survival from the disease.
Gilead has said it will charge $US2340 ($3400) for a typical treatment course for people in the US and other developed countries.
It will sell for less in poorer countries where generic drug-makers are being allowed to produce it.
Critics in the US have attacked the price because taxpayers have funded much of the drug’s development.