Model changes stance in the face of summer push local news
As Virginia stands days away from lifting remaining capacity restrictions imposed at the height of the coronavirus pandemic, a new state report says a large summer increase in COVID-19 cases is no longer likely.
For months, the Biocomplexity Institute at the University of Virginia predicted – among the worst situations – a spike in virus cases in the coming months that could rival or exceed January levels.
Last week, after introducing new formulas into the modeling mix, the researchers returned to that assessment. While the path exists for the number of cases to increase, the dramatic numbers are no longer in the picture.
It comes amid a sharp drop in the number of daily cases in the region, state and nation.
The first model change reflects a new environment with variations. The B.1.1.7 variant is now dominant, so its increased transmissibility is now built into the past data, the report has started. This gives the models a new gauge for trends.
In addition, the worst-case scenario has been adjusted to reflect the increased prevention efforts seen as a result of previous outbreaks, thereby reducing the magnitude of these scenarios, the UVa report released on Friday said. A similar situation arose when forecasting the winter surge. Originally, the cases predicted by UVa would continue to climb until February. Instead, high levels peaked in mid-January. Health experts credit Virginians with acknowledging the situation and imposing appropriate behavior to combat the rise in cases.
Even with these limits, cases could reach higher peaks than last summer, showing that the number of unvaccinated Virginians is still large enough to cause significant spikes, especially in communities with vaccination rates are weak. ”
Halifax County – and southern Virginia in general – is one of those areas that is significantly behind the state average for immunizations. In the county, 31% of residents are considered fully vaccinated compared to 42% in the state. For those who have at least one dose of the vaccine, the contrast is even greater. About 36% of Halifax County residents have received at least one COVID-19 vaccine, which is significantly lower than the 53% of Virginia residents.
Yet, even with some regions with lower vaccination percentages, more vaccines were administered overall to more arms than previously anticipated, another reason for the flip-flop with the UVa prediction.
Locally, models suggest that cases continue to decline. At worst, a slight bump can occur in September with around 55 cases per week, far less than the surge of 258 weekly cases in January.
UVa – and the Virginia Department of Health – are quick to point out that the new mask guidelines only apply to those who are fully vaccinated.
“Masks and social distancing are still recommended for unvaccinated people, and masks are still recommended in certain situations for those who are vaccinated,” the researchers wrote in Friday’s report.
This translates into a recommendation that 69% of Halifax County residents should always wear masks in public spaces, despite the state lifting the official mandate for face masks.
For the first time, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has placed Halifax County at low risk for transmission of COVID-19, the lowest level of a four-level system used to assess the threat of the virus in communities.
Currently, the county’s seven-day infection rate is zero, but it is partially marred by negative numbers in the past seven days. The health department regularly reviews data and may transfer cases from one jurisdiction to another, primarily due to postcode errors.
The CDC reports a positivity rate of 1.79% for Halifax County, an indication that the virus is under control in the region.
“These successes demonstrate what we can accomplish when we all do our part to stop the spread,” AVU researchers wrote of the decline in cases in the state.