UT researchers predict winter COVID-19 surge if behaviors aren’t changed

We are heading into another year of fighting COVID-19 and now with the omicron variant spreading rapidly, the CDC called on none other than the University of Texas at Austin to help them predict what lies ahead for the country.

"It's very contagious, it's more contagious than delta," said Anass Bouchnita, researcher at the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.

But so far, Bouchnita said omicron hasn't shown any strong evidence of being more deadly than delta or the original strain. Bouchnita took variables like vaccination and booster numbers, and other factors to predict the coming months. He came up with two scenarios.

"In the optimistic scenario we expect to see a mild wave," he said, but added that current trends are heading in the pessimistic scenario's direction.

"We expect to see a wave that is much higher than what we have seen before. In this case the hospitalizations and mortality will exceed the numbers that we reached during the highest wave that we had so far," he said.

If behaviors aren't changed, the report predicts the emergence of this variant could lead to the largest healthcare surge to date. Bouchnita is hoping for a more optimisitic situation, where a very mild surge would peak around Jan. 18, and hospital admissions would remain low. But he says that's dependent on the citizens.

"I know all of us have this pandemic fatigue," said Bouchnita. "Be cautious by wearing face masks and avoiding large gatherings when possible….and keeping distance."

The City of Austin released this statement in response:

"There is great concern about the implications of the latest projections published by UT's COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. Leadership remains in constant contact with UT researchers, coordinating our resources and response accordingly. Austin Public Health will be reviewing our staging thresholds in the coming days to ensure our metrics best reflect newly available data. We continue to strongly encourage people to get tested if they feel sick, get vaccinated if they haven't already and boosted when they're eligible."

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