Sometimes it seems like this pandemic will never end. We have been teased in the past that things were looking up, especially early in the summer when vaccinations were being rolled out and the numbers of Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations, deaths started decreasing. But then the Delta variant kicked in and we went back into mask-wearing, physical-distancing, and hunker-down mode. Or at least some of us did.
But now a respected team of scientists who form the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub that advises the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention say that the worst really may be over and that their models, under varying conditions, predict that we should start to see declines lasting all the way through March of 2022.
For its latest update, which it will release Wednesday, the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub combined nine different mathematical models from different research groups to get an outlook for the pandemic for the next six months.
“Any of us who have been following this closely, given what happened with delta, are going to be really cautious about too much optimism,” says Justin Lessler at the University of North Carolina, who helps run the hub. “But I do think that the trajectory is towards improvement for most of the country,” he says.
The modelers developed four potential scenarios, taking into account whether or not childhood vaccinations take off and whether a more infectious new variant should emerge.
The most likely scenario, says Lessler, is that children do get vaccinated and no super-spreading variant emerges. In that case, the combo model forecasts that new infections would slowly, but fairly continuously, drop from about 140,000 today now to about 9,000 a day by March.
Deaths from COVID-19 would fall from about 1,500 a day now to fewer than 100 a day by March 2022.
Given that we are all a little wary of becoming too hopeful, the authors of the study are careful to point out the sources of uncertainty.
And this scenario projects that there will be no winter surge, though Lessler cautions that there is uncertainty in the models and a “moderate” surge is still theoretically possible.
There’s wide range of uncertainty in the models, he notes, and it’s plausible, though very unlikely, that cases could continue to rise to as many as 232,000 per day before starting to decline.
“We have to be cautious because the virus has shown us time and time again that new variants or people loosening up on how careful they’re being can lead things to come roaring back,” Lessler warns.
At this point, I am grateful for any signs of improvement.
Of course, if this model proves accurate, we will still be faced with how to decide if and when the pandemic is ‘over’ and we can let our guards down. It is highly unlikely that there will be a clean drop to zero infections and deaths. We will have to calibrate how low the numbers must get before we treat it as effectively zero, the way we do with other infectious diseases like the flu, and treat the risks of getting infected the same way we treat the other risks of daily life.