Predicting the direction of the pandemic has become challenging due to the faster spread and raised infectiousness of severe acute respiratory syndrome 2 (SARS-Cov-2) variants as well as the refusal to wear masks and vaccination efforts.
The Delta variant has interrupted the controllable number of cases in the United States this summer and brought about more surges of cases than what was expected.
A recent preprint study from medRxiv, the National Institute of Health’s researchers led by Cécile Viboud, has evaluated various methods of speculating the pandemic’s direction in the United States for the remaining months of 2021.
According to the researchers:
“The projections indicate that even with substantial vaccination coverage, the increased transmissibility of new variants like Delta can continue to challenge our ability to control this pandemic.”
The researchers found that the pandemic will likely extend for the rest of the year due to the low vaccination rates. COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations will likely rise in states with low vaccination rates.
With this, the team of researchers suggests a more rigid vaccination drive in these states and the re-establishment of masking rules to lower transmission rates.
To lessen the impact of the Delta variant, they recommend having more people vaccinated to prevent approximately 1.5 million COVID-19 cases and 21,000 deaths.
How was it done
The data from July 3, 2021, was the basis for the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub to forecast the course of national and state cases, hospitalizations, and deaths in the next 6 months in the United States.
From this data, they created four scenarios that included the low or high rate of vaccination hesitancy, efficacy of SARS-Cov-2 vaccination, and lower (40%) or higher (60%) transmissibility from the Delta variant compared to the Alpha variant.
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Increased Delta transmission and low vaccination rate
If the transmission rate of the Delta variant is 60% more than Alpha, it is expected to create a higher number of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths for the entire summer. Numbers are also predicted to peak in mid to late September of 2021.
In the worst-case scenario, 414,000 COVID-19 cases and 5,900 deaths can happen weekly nationwide with the high transmission rate of Delta and low vaccination uptake.
The model forecasts a total of 7,554,000 cases and 96,000 deaths in the six months from July 2021 to January 2022.
Increased Delta transmission but high vaccination rate
The results of the model suggest that if 80% of the country is vaccinated by January 1, 2022, the nationwide effects of Delta can be mitigated. During the peak of Delta, vaccination coverage can help lessen the cases by 17% and the deaths by 22% weekly.
A national vaccination rate of 80%, in comparison to 70%, translates to 20% fewer cases and 22% fewer deaths from July to January of next year.
States projected with a COVID-19 surge
There are 10 states the researchers expect to have the most significant number of COVID-19 cases in the country.
The states of Louisiana, Hawaii, Nevada, Arkansas, Missouri, Florida, Utah, Georgia, Alabama, and Mississippi had approximately 52% of their qualified citizens with at least one dose since July 3, 2021.
On the other hand, the states of Massachusetts, Minnesota, Rhode Island, Pennsylvania, North Dakota, Wisconsin, Vermont, Maine, Tennessee, and New York are expected to have lower COVID-19 cases since they have approximately 71% of the population from 12 years and older vaccinated with at least one dose.
Lower COVID-19-related deaths have been linked to high vaccination rates overall.
“The impact of vaccination is already being observed: in the ten states with the largest projected resurgence there has been a 9% reduction in the observed case fatality ratio (CFR) comparing August-December 2020 and January-July 2021; in the ten states with the least projected resurgence a 21% reduction in CFR has been observed. During the projection period, we project reductions of 15% and 14%, as compared to August-December 2020,” explained the researchers.
As of July 31, 2021, other states are beyond the estimated COVID-19 cases of this study weekly and cumulatively. Seven out of the 10 states projected to have a high number of cases have already exceeded the researcher’s “pessimistic scenario”.