New forecasts from an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill paint a positive picture of herd immunity and fewer cases of COVID-19 over the coming winter.
Justin Lessler is one of the File Coordinators COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Center, a nationwide collaborative effort between universities that takes projections from teams across the country and balances them statistically.
North Carolina’s latest forecast says we’ve already reached peak coronavirus infections from the delta variant.
New reported COVID-19 cases and deaths in North Carolina
New laboratory-confirmed cases and deaths are based on daily reporting from the NC Department of Health and Human Services through the agency COVID-19 Dashboard. The dashboard began publishing the case count on March 13 and the death count on March 26. Since numbers for these cases and deaths can lag a bit depending on how long it takes labs to process tests and health officials to confirm cases, we also calculate a seven-day rolling average to show the cases curve. Note: This graph now includes cases and deaths identified through antigen testing, which DHHS began reporting on their dashboard on September 25. Read more about the corrections and compare the changes here.
He points out that if children are vaccinated and if a new, more contagious type does not emerge, the epidemic may often be a memory by next spring.
Lessler and his team are optimistic that so many people in the United States have either been vaccinated or contracted the coronavirus. “This creates immunity, and that immunity ultimately has the effect of keeping people away from the virus, which is kind of consuming viral fire fuel,” he said. “This causes the virus to start to recede.”
And he warns that two emergencies — the vaccination of children and the presence of a new variant — make a big difference.
A projection involving the development of a new, more contagious variant shows a spike in cases in early 2022. UNU Chapel Hill virologist Dirk Dittmann believes this scenario is likely due to holiday travel and because the virus is always evolving.
“It is likely that we will see another variant spread better,” he said. “However, whether this alternative leads to further hospitalization is another matter entirely.”
Higher vaccination and immunity rates should help make the next wave less deadly, Dittmann says.
He said, “If we don’t achieve vaccine levels, or if the vaccine doesn’t last as far as we think it does, it will be reset entirely to zero. And that’s the most horrific scenario I’m concerned about.” .
Lessler is more optimistic, but he doesn’t want people to think they can relax. The delta wave is not over yet.
“What he’s telling me is that things are bad now, but things will get better. So take those extra few weeks or months of being careful. You’ll be able to start, you know, and relax a little bit at the end,” he said.