COVID-19 cases could surge across the United States and peak in May if we see decreases in physical distancing and mask-wearing and increased transmissibility of new variants, according to new model projections.

Conducted by a team of researchers in collaboration with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the models also project a sharp decline in cases by July 2021, especially in locations with high vaccination uptake.

“Our models suggest that some states that decrease their public health efforts on physical distancing and mask-wearing could see high levels of COVID-19 cases, similar to those seen in late 2020,” says Katriona Shea, professor of biology and alumni professor in the biological sciences at Penn State, and an expert on combining multiple models to provide decision support for policymakers. “Even moderate reductions in compliance could undermine vaccination gains in the next two-to-three months.”

Shea, along with postdoctoral fellow Rebecca Borchering, partnered with other collaborators and the CDC, and six modeling teams from multiple universities, to conduct the first-ever multi-model effort to assess long-term projections of COVID-19 in real-time in the United States under different epidemiological scenarios.

The models project weekly reported cases, hospitalizations, and deaths, both nationally and by jurisdiction (50 states and Washington, DC), for a six-month period based on several factors, including:

  • vaccine uptake rates
  • vaccine effectiveness estimates
  • state-level policies on public health measures such as physical distancing and mask-wearing
    vaccine hesitancy
  • B.1.1.7 variant prevalence

Model projections indicate that COVID-19 cases could increase through May due to increased presence of the highly transmissible B.1.1.7 variant and decreased mandates and compliance with interventions, such as physical distancing and mask-wearing. This rise in cases could result in surges in deaths and hospitalizations, peaking at between 7,000-11,000 deaths per week nationally. While the results indicate substantial variation across states, projections for Pennsylvania mirror those observed for the US.

Read the full article about mask mandates by Sara LaJeunesse-Penn State at Futurity.