RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Could the worst of the delta surge of COVID-19 finally be over in North Carolina?
One model from a team coordinated by a University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill epidemiologist seems to indicate so.
“It’s a very cautious optimism,” Dr. Justin Lessler said. “Emphasis on the caution, I guess.”
Lessler helps run the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub, which collects models from across the country and assembles them into a composite that is then used by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
The latest composite released this week shows slow but steady declines in the U.S. — and in North Carolina in particular — in cases, hospitalized patients and deaths through March.
The best-case scenario assumes two things: That the vaccine will be opened to children between 5 and 11 years old, and that another variant similar to delta won’t emerge.
Lessler says the decline won’t happen fast — “It’s important to remember that it is taking six months to get back to where we were in July, so it’s not that things are OK tomorrow,” he said — and there is variation between the individual models.
Some project more increases in North Carolina before the curve turns the other way and some do anticipate a relatively quicker decline.
“But they all sort of agree that once you get to three months out, that we’re going to be in a firm downward trend, in a good place by March,” he said.
Pegging a peak in a pandemic is not an easy task because of the vast amount of uncertainty.
One doctor at UNC said last month that he didn’t expect the numbers to start dropping regularly until October or November.
The seven-day average number of cases has dropped by about 25 percent over the past week, and the count of hospitalized patients has dipped to their lowest level in a month, even as deaths — the ultimate lagging indicator — continue to mount in high numbers.
UNC virologist Dr. Dirk Dittmer says those initial projections of a decline later in the fall do hold up because the margin of error is so wide.
“We were never sure what the margin of error really was” a month ago, he said. “And that’s what it is.”
Lessler says the sooner-than-expected drops in those numbers can be attributed to the growing number of people developing some sort of protection — one way or another.
“It all has to do with immunity from both vaccination and natural infection,” he said.
“And that, combined with some behavior change, because people are being a little bit more cautious, is enough to turn the curve and start bringing it down, as opposed to in a month or two,” he added. “The models are generally projecting that the accumulated immunity is taking away the fire or the fuel of the epidemic that needs to burn.”
CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.