By Steve Gorman

(Reuters) – A newly revised coronavirus mortality model predicts more than 147,000 Americans will die from COVID-19 by early August, up nearly 10,000 from the last projection, as restrictions for curbing the pandemic are relaxed, researchers said on Tuesday.

The latest forecast from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) reflects “key drivers of viral transmission like changes in testing and mobility, as well as easing of distancing policies,” the report said.

The revision reinforced public health warnings, including U.S. Senate testimony on Tuesday from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, that prematurely lifting lockdowns could lead to more outbreaks of the respiratory virus.

Fauci and other medical experts have urged caution in relaxing restraints on commerce before diagnostic testing and the ability to trace close contacts of infected individuals can be vastly expanded, along with other safeguards.

IHME researchers acknowledged that precise consequences of moves to reopen shuttered businesses and loosen stay-at-home orders are difficult to gauge.

“The full potential effects of recent actions to ease social distancing policies, especially if robust containment measures have yet to be fully scaled up, may not be fully known for a few weeks due to the time periods between viral exposure, possible infection and full disease progression,” the report said.

COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus, has already claimed nearly 81,000 lives in the United States, out of more than 1.36 million known infections, according to a Reuters tally.

The revised IHME model, frequently cited by the White House and other public health authorities, predicted that the cumulative U.S. death toll will climb to 147,040 by Aug. 4, up 9,856 from the institute’s previous update on Sunday.

A week earlier, the model had sharply increased the figure to nearly 135,000 deaths, almost double its April 29 forecast, citing steps in about 30 states to ease social-distancing requirements.

The clamor to reopen businesses ranging from restaurants to auto plants has only gained momentum since then as unemployment hit levels not seen since the Great Depression of the 1930s.

The projections are presented as a range, with the latest forecast – 147,00-plus deaths – representing the average between a best-case scenario of 102,783 lives lost and a worst-case scenario of 223,489 fatalities.

The forecasts have fluctuated over the past couple of months, with a projected death toll as low as 60,000 on April 18.

(Reporting by Steve Gorman in Los Angeles; Editing by Sandra Maler and Cynthia Osterman)