UVA COVID-19 model predicts post-holiday surge

Hospitals are bracing for a potential COVID-19 surge in the new year, which could be greater than the one we saw after Thanksgiving.
Updated: Dec. 28, 2020 at 6:11 PM EST
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CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Hospitals are bracing for a potential COVID-19 surge in the new year, which could be greater than the one we saw after Thanksgiving. The researchers behind an influential projection of the virus say if vaccine rollout continues smoothly and additional steps are taken, the worst could be avoided.

Despite warnings from health officials, millions of people traveled for the holidays. Researchers at the University of Virginia’s Biocomplexity Institute say what happens next will be critical, with a wide range of possibilities in the model they curate for the Virginia Department of Health.

The difference between best case and worst case scenarios is people staying vigilant with safety measures and getting the vaccine.

“If you look at that area between those two, that represents tens of thousands into the hundreds of thousands of individuals who get sick, and then a fraction of those who may end up being hospitalized and die,” Computational Epidemiologist Bryan Lewis said. He says that the state dodged a bullet already, when the post-Thanksgiving surge stalled just before Christmas.

“Heading into the Christmas break things had slightly slowed down. I think we’ve recovered a little bit from the Thanksgiving break,” Lewis explained.

Now, the question is how much the holidays and increased travel will dampen New Years’ celebrations.

“There has been a fair amount of travel, a fair amount of interactions as people gather, to celebrate the holidays,” Lewis said. “That is going to obviously increase the risk of transmission, and so we probably will see a surge again.”

How big that surge will be is unclear, in part due to decreased testing and case reporting over the holidays.

“There’s nothing that can beat the fact that a doctor’s office is closed, the testing center is closed for a number of days,” Lewis explained. “We anticipate that we’re going to see a backlog.”

That’s something health workers at the Thomas Jefferson Health District are gearing up for.

“What we’re trying to do, beginning next week, is ramp up our testing access to it,” Ryan McKay at the Thomas Jefferson Health District explained. “We’re going to increase from 100 tests available per community site to 200, with support from the National Guard.”

Lewis says making sure 2020 is well and truly in the past may not happen when the clock strikes midnight on New Year’s Eve.

“We have this light at the end of the tunnel, but unfortunately that does not start January 1, and unfortunately, really isn’t going to start until we get into April, or May,” he explained.

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