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'Light at the end of the tunnel': Researchers predict steady decline in COVID cases through March — without any 'significant winter surge'

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A group of researchers that advises the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention predicted this week that the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic could be over — and said that a steady decline in confirmed coronavirus cases through March could very well be on the horizon.

What are the details?

The pandemic, according to a consortium of researchers advising the CDC, appears to have either peaked or be close to peaking, as they predict cases will fall this autumn and into the winter months.

The Delta variant surge also appears to be peaking nationally, according to the group's predictions, and the country is reportedly not likely to see a "significant winter surge."

A Wednesday report from NPR noted, "For its latest update, which it will release Wednesday, the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub combined nine different mathematical models from different research groups to get an outlook for the pandemic for the next six months."

Justin Lessler of the University of North Carolina — who helps to run the hub — told the news organization, "Any of us who have been following this closely, given what happened with Delta, are going to be really cautious about too much optimism. But I do think that the trajectory is towards improvement for most of the country."

Researchers note that conditions could continue to deteriorate until the country officially turns a corner, indicating the need for continued mitigation procedures, but that an optimistic scenario could see a drastic reduction in the number of cases come spring 2022 compared to now.

"Deaths from COVID-19 would fall from about 1,500 a day now to fewer than 100 a day by March 2022," NPR reported. New infections, according to Lessler, would slowly but surely continue to drop from approximately 140,000 per day to approximately 9,000 a day by March.

Such a scenario projects that there will be no significant winter surge, though a "moderate" surge is plausible.

Due to the inherent uncertainty of the models, Lessler added, cases could continue to rise to as many as 232,000 per day before dropping off — though such a development is "very unlikely," NPR noted.

"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 things to come roaring back," Lessler added.

Researchers stated that even if a variant more contagious than Delta were to emerge in the coming weeks and months, the U.S. still remains likely to see a vast reduction in daily confirmed cases by March — just below 50,000 cases per day.

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

He concluded, "The biggest driver is immunity. We've seen really big Delta waves. The virus has eaten up the susceptible people. So there are less people out there to infect. ... [I]mmunity always wins out eventually."

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