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UVA researcher predicts what's next for COVID in Virginia

Coronavirus test
Posted at 6:11 PM, Jan 11, 2022
and last updated 2022-01-11 18:26:24-05

RICHMOND, Va. -- As COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations reach record highs, Governor Ralph Northam said his new State of Emergency declaration aimed to help hospitals address bed and staffing shortages.

However, the emergency declaration is only set to last 30 days based on modeling on how the current surge of cases could play out.

The model has been developed by a team of researchers at the University of Virginia throughout the pandemic.

"This thing is running roughshod over our population and is able to cause a lot, a lot of infections," Bryan Lewis, a research associate professor with the Biocomplexity Institute at UVA said.

Lewis said that what is happening is what they predicted just before Christmas as all 35 health districts in the Commonwealth are surging with cases of the coronavirus.

"And given the estimates of how much or how effective omicron is able to escape immunity, the number of cases we can create are still phenomenally high," Lewis said.

The model estimates cases peaking at 400,000 per week in the second half of January.

However, Lewis said that testing may not be able to keep up and give a true picture of the virus. Because of this, he said hospitalizations are important to keep an eye on.

Hospitalizations are also expected to increase for several weeks even though the omicron variant is thought to cause less serious illnesses.

"If you triple or quadruple the number of cases, that pool's a lot larger," Lewis said.

Lewis said that after the peak, predictions on the speed of decline vary depending on factors such as mitigation measures. He adds that modeling the new variant has been difficult because of how quickly it has spread across the country.

"There's still a lot of questions out there that aren't fully answered that we're still trying to bake into the model," Lewis said.

With that said, Lewis thinks infection rates could ease towards a more steady level that won't overwhelm hospitals and vaccinations and boosters can help speed that up.

"We will have more immunity built up in our population. It won't be able to move quite as fast," Lewis said.

Longer-term, Lewis points to the trajectory of the 1918 flue pandemic. He said that while COVID will likely ring loudly for the first few years, it will likely eventually normalize.

"Five, six years from now, we'll kind of have probably a seasonal kind of effect where it might get synced up more with influenza," Lewis said.

Lewis said that while the focus is on COVID right now, he doesn't want people to forget about the flu. He encourages people to get their flu shot as peak flu season is approaching.