Image by Juraj Varga via Pixabay/Futurism

After a meeting of experts at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other top health officials, the government presented four models for the possible trajectory of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak.

In the absolute worst-case scenario, if many people ignore recommendations and the government response remains inadequate, COVID-19 could kill between 200,000 and 1.7 million Americans before this is all over, according to The New York Times.

"We're being very, very careful to make sure we have scientifically valid modeling that's drawing properly on the epidemic and what’s known about the virus," Ira Longini, co-director of the Center for Statistics and Quantitative Infectious Diseases at the University of Florida told the NYT. "You can’t win. If you overdo it, you panic everybody. If you underdo it, they get complacent. You have to be careful."

That estimate could change — in either direction — based on how we proceed from here and as more information comes to light. Right now, tests for the new coronavirus remain unavailable and various government agencies aren't coordinating well.

As a result, officials are left predicting the trajectory of an outbreak based on an abysmally small dataset.

But the outbreak's trajectory also depends on the behavior of the general public and how well they follow official recommendations like frequently washing their hands, avoiding gatherings as much as possible, disinfecting their surroundings, and self-quarantining if they get sick.

"When people change their behavior, those model parameters are no longer applicable," Lauren Gardner, an epidemic expert at Johns Hopkins, told the NYT. "There is a lot of room for improvement if we act appropriately."