To realize the most positive future scenario, health officials caution that it will take continued mask-wearing and social distancing while vaccination expands.
(CN) — The United States could see a sharp decline in Covid-19 cases by July, according to new models released by researchers in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
A first-of-its-kind report released Wednesday uses various models to forecast the potential long-term trajectories of the coronavirus in the U.S., examining how four scenarios regarding vaccination and prevention measures would influence Covid-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths.
The scenarios represent high and low rates of both vaccination and adherence to nonpharmaceutical interventions, or NPIs, like physical distancing and masking. Data extend from April through September 2021, and are based on six models.
They show that hospitalization and death rates are likely to remain low across the county if vaccine coverage is high and there remains at least moderate adherence to measures like masking and social distancing. The sharp decline projected by July could come even sooner if vaccination rates speed up.
Even with more vaccines available, however, the country could still see substantial increases in the worst outcomes of infections from the novel coronavirus if measures like masking are cut back too soon. The risk would come from unvaccinated people spreading the virus as businesses stop enforcing mask requirements.
Covid-19 cases increased in March and April, despite the expansion of vaccine eligibility, as the more highly transmissible variant B.1.1.7, first seen in the United Kingdom, became dominant in the U.S.
At that time, CDC Director Rochelle Walensky told Americans she felt a sense of “impending doom.”
New data is more encouraging, Walensky said during a press briefing on Wednesday.
“The results remind us that we have the path out of this,” she said. “Models once projecting really grim news now offer reasons to be quite hopeful for what the summer may bring.”
Still, variants continue to put many states at risk for an increase in cases, Walensky said, especially if vaccination rates don’t increase — and if we don’t keep prevention measures in place, “until we have a critical mass of people vaccinated.”
In all four scenarios outlined in the CDC’s new report, Covid-19 cases are projected to increase throughout the rest of the month, because of the increased prevalence of the U.K. variant and a decline in NPI mandates and compliance.
“Although we are seeing progress in terms of decreased cases, hospitalizations and deaths,” Walensky said, “variants are a wild card that could reverse this progress we have made and could set us back.”
Current vaccines seem to protect against the most predominant coronavirus variants in the country.
The CDC models “forecasted some really good news,” Walensky said, but should also serve as a reminder that the future of the pandemic’s toll in the U.S. depends on how we respond in the next few months.
Walensky said she is often asked when the pandemic will end, and when things can get back to normal.
“The reality is, it all depends on the actions we take now,” she said.
The upshot: With more vaccines administered and continued vigilance, there’s realistic hope for a summer with some semblance of normalcy.
“We are not out of the woods yet,” Walensky said, ”but we could be very close.”