In-Depth: Model projects slow but steady drop in COVID infections

COVID-19 test
Posted at 5:54 PM, Sep 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-23 21:42:22-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) -- A group of researchers that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the U.S. may be past the peak of COVID infections.

The COVID Scenario Modeling Hub projects we’re on track for gradually improving conditions over the next few months, with infections dropping from the current pace of roughly 140,000 per day to about 9,000 per day in March.

In California, the consortium of nine research teams projects a drop from about 100 deaths per day to about two per day in March, a level not seen since the first month of the pandemic.

“I think we should be cautiously optimistic,” said Dr. Shaun Truelove, an assistant scientist at Johns Hopkins who is part of the modeling team.

Dr. Truelove said the forecast contains a lot of uncertainty, but researchers have confidence in the general downward trajectory of cases nationwide, although some states may continue to see increases. He said the projected improvement is largely based on estimates of immunity from vaccination and natural infection.

The projection relies on two major assumptions: vaccines becoming available for children 5 to 11 on November 1 and no new variant outcompeting delta.

However, some experts are skeptical of the model’s optimistic projection.

“We hope for the best and prepare for the worst. And our experience suggests we will see a winter surge,” said UC San Diego Health chief medical officer Dr. Christopher Longhurst.

He said San Diego hospitals are bracing for a “fifth wave” this winter, not just from COVID but from a combination of other viruses, including the flu.

A lot will hinge on mask use and social behavior heading into the holidays, he said.

“Last year we saw, about 10 days after Thanksgiving, a significant surge begin. Then people got together again for Christmas and other holidays and that drove continued spread of the disease,” Longhurst said.

He added, “If we're gathering with family and friends from across the country, that will contribute to surges. Not just in Southern California, but across the country.”

If vaccines don't become available and a variant emerges, the COVID Scenario Modeling Hub projects cases will gradually decline before climbing in January.