Researchers studying the spread of COVID-19 say it looks as though the number of new coronavirus infections nationwide has peaked and will steadily decline through the spring.
It is welcome news from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, a think tank of more than 100 people working to make forecasts throughout the pandemic.
“This is like the weather. We can give a pretty good weather forecast going out a couple weeks in the future, but we can’t really see much more in specifics,” said Justin Lesser, a professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina.
Currently, the 7-day average of new COVID-19 cases per day is just under 115,000, compared to 134,000 one week ago. The models predict in the best-case scenario, where a new COVID-19 variant does not emerge and childhood vaccinations take off, we could get to 9,000 new cases per day by mid-March.
In the worst-case scenario, where child vaccinations do not take off and a new COVID-19 variant does emerge, the United States will cut new daily cases in half to 50,000 per day.
“I think all the models agree, there’s some disagreement in timing, but they all agree that immunity will eventually start having a big impact on the course of the pandemic and we should see declining cases as we go through the winter and into the early spring,” said Lessler.
Since last winter, the team has been forecasting different scenarios for different periods of the pandemic. In May, when delta first took hold in the U.S., the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub predicted cases would begin to rise through early fall. One of the nine models predicted nearly perfectly when the cases would begin to dramatically rise and peak.
Now that the forecast for the winter is changing, experts say the main driver for that prediction is rising vaccinations due to the dangers of delta that have driven people once on the fence about getting vaccinated to do so.
“It’s really the immunity, I think, that will be driving those decreases,” said Rebecca Borchering, a post-doctoral researcher at Penn State University.
“I see these less as being blanket optimistic and more saying, 'Hey, things should turn around. There is a light at the end of the tunnel, but they’re not turned around yet,'” said Lessler. “I think there’s huge value in just getting people on the same page in terms of the questions being asked.”