Virginia-specific model puts coronavirus peak in late summer


RICHMOND, Va. (WRIC)- A Virginia-specific coronavirus model puts the state’s pandemic peak months later than at least one commonly cited analysis. On Monday, Gov. Ralph Northam’s Administration said the model is proof that social distancing is working but easing restrictions too soon could come with serious consequences.

Secretary of Health and Human Resources Dr. Daniel Carey said the University of Virginia’s model isn’t a “crystal ball” that can track exactly what’s going to happen in the months ahead. As with other analyses, Carey said it’ll become more accurate as the state’s testing capacity grows.

“Projecting future cases precisely is impossible and probably not fully necessary,” said Bryan Lewis, an associate professor of research with UVA’s Biocomplexity Institute. “Even without perfect projections, we can confidently draw some conclusions.” 

According to Carter Price, senior mathematician at the RAND Corporation, UVA’s methodology is different for a few reasons. The institute uses travel data to model geographic spread of the virus in Virginia and county data to better understand regional circumstances.

Price said the University of Washington’s model, which predicts Virginia’s pandemic will peak between April and May, isn’t sensitive to variations in ‘stay at home’ policies by state.

Lewis said UVA’s model projects different outcomes based on the length of Virginia’s stay-at-home order and the efficacy of social distancing.

Without any intervention, UVA’s model says new weekly cases would’ve peaked at more than 200 thousand by May 17.

With Virginian’s staying home until June 10, the model’s best case scenario shows the curve flattening and peaking in late summer. The curve that summits between August and September assumes that social distancing “pauses” the spread, as opposed to just “slowing” it.

“It [the model] shows that our social distancing measures are working. We’re slowing the spread of this virus,” Gov. Northam said. “It also shows that Virginia’s hospitals have sufficient capacity to handle the surge in patients that we expect.”

Northam said, while the state expects to have enough bed space, his administration is still concerned about shortages in ventilators, personal protective equipment, testing supplies and staff. He said resource needs will likely vary by region.

According to UVA’s model, populations centers in Northern Virginia will see the worst of the state’s pandemic.

Madhav Marathe, division director of UVA’s Biocomplexity Insitute, said these peaks should be considered a “mathematical possibility” that the right policy decisions can help avoid.

When asked what a late summer peak means for coronavirus restrictions, Carey said Virginia needs to develop different strategies, like contact tracing, that help achieve a middle ground. “We need a different tool kit besides opening everything up,” he said.

As President Donald Trump pushes to reopen the economy by next month, UVA’s model suggests rushing back to normal is a bad idea.

“If we stop what we’re doing too soon it’s clear we will have a second peak. It could be worse than what we’re dealing with right now,” Northam said.

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