UVA COVID-19 modeling predicts steep spike in virus cases in September

UVA COVID-19 modeling predicts steep spike in virus cases in September
New data gathered and models created by the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute predict the Commonwealth is creeping closer and closer to a surge. (Source: WVIR)

CHARLOTTESVILLE, Va. (WVIR) - Virginia is not mentioned as a COVID-19 hotspot alongside states like California, Florida, and Texas, but new data gathered and models created by the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute predicts that the commonwealth is creeping closer and closer to a surge.

“We’re trending a little closer to, I guess, less good, worst-case scenario,” UVA Computational Epidemiologist Bryan Lewis said.

Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic, the Virginia Department of Health has relied on modeling from the Biocomplexity Institute at UVA to get a handle on the pandemic, with updates available to the public every week since the middle of May.

“What we try to do is allow information for decision making that stays in front of both technology as it currently exists and also in front of the circumstances, as they currently exist,” Biocomplexity Institute Executive Director Christopher Barrett said.

This week’s update marked a steep departure from the past weeks. With the current course and once-worst-case-scenario surge projections neck and neck, Lewis says that parts of the commonwealth are beginning to mirror hard-hit areas of the country.

“We’ve seen in a lot of these other states like Florida, South Carolina, Georgia, California, Arizona, they just have been going at a very high rate of transmission for several weeks in a row,” Lewis explained. “Now, we’re starting to see different districts in Virginia do that.”

With 12 districts, including the Thomas Jefferson Health District, currently experiencing a surge, the model suggests that on the current pace, Virginia could be seeing an average of more than 2,000 new cases a day by September. Doctors say it’s time to consider drastic measures.

“I think it is time to consider things like rolling back restrictions, either locally or statewide,” UVA Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Taison Bell said. “Many of us felt that it was never time to really move into phase three.”

Lewis says that while the model may not look favorable now, a surge and massive increase in cases is far from inevitable. The model just shows a snapshot projection of this moment in time. With more mask usage and social distancing, it could be avoided.

“It’s just sort of like if you don’t touch the steering wheel and you don’t hit the brakes, and you don’t hit the gas,” Lewis explained. “This is where we’re headed. We can look ahead and we say, ‘Hey, looks like we’re going into a sharp turn, maybe we should slow down and steer, right.‘”

That is the kind of advice state leaders - like Governor Ralph Northam - are considering in their decision-making.

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