Sept. 22, 2021 -- The recent surge in COVID-19 cases due to the more contagious Delta variant appears to be peaking and will likely decline now through the spring, researchers say.

If current trends hold steady, they say, cases and deaths could fall for the next several months, avoiding a winter surge. Infections are projected to drop to around 9,000 cases per day by March, according to NPR.

At the same time, the latest update from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub assumes that childhood vaccinations will take off later this year and that no new contagious variants will emerge.

“Any of us who have been following this closely, given what happened with Delta, are going to be really cautious about too much optimism,” Justin Lessler, PhD, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina who helps run the hub, told NPR.

“But I do think that the trajectory is towards improvement for most of the country,” he said.

The forecast combines nine mathematical models from research groups across the country to project what may happen in the next 6 months. They calculated four potential scenarios, accounting for childhood vaccinations and potential new variants.

The most likely scenario is that children get vaccinated and no new contagious variant emerges, Lessler told NPR. Under that model, COVID-19 cases will slowly drop, from 140,000 per day right now to about 9,000 by March. Deaths will fall from 1,500 per day to fewer than 100.

The other models have broader ranges, with some predicting that cases could increase to 232,000 per day before dropping. But Lessler told NPR that scenario is unlikely.

Still, “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 to things to come roaring back,” he said.

The trends will likely vary by region, too. Some states could continue to see a surge for several weeks, NPR reported. Transmission remains high in many areas, and hospitalizations and deaths will continue to increase for some time. The U.S. is projected to reach more than 780,000 total deaths by March.

States with cold winter weather may also be more susceptible to an increase later this year, since coronaviruses tend to peak in January, according to NPR. In the meantime, ongoing COVID-19 precautions could ensure that the most optimistic forecast comes true. Increasing the vaccination rates and practicing good hygiene will help the case numbers drop in coming months.

“I think a lot of people have been tending to think that with this surge, it just is never going to get better. And so maybe I just need to stop worrying about it and take risks,” Lessler said. “But I think these projections show us there is a light at the end of the tunnel.”

Show Sources

NPR: “Is The Worst Over? Modelers Predict A Steady Decline In COVID Cases Through March.”

COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub: “Model Projection.”

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