The delta variant of COVID-19 is projected to kill an estimated 60,000 Americans in a fourth wave of increased cases peaking in mid-October 2021, tripling the current death rate, according to a new forecast from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub.
“What’s going on in the country with the virus is matching our most pessimistic scenarios,” according to Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina who is involved with running the modeling hub. “We might be seeing synergistic effects of people becoming less cautious in addition to the impacts of the delta variant.”
He then warned, “I think it’s a big call for caution.”
NPR detailed the project, which utilized 10 different mathematical models offered by teams of academics, synthesized into a single “ensemble” projection. The team also created four scenarios for its projections based on two key factors: what percent of the population gets vaccinated and how quickly the delta variant spreads.
Lessler said the most likely scenario has the U.S.only getting to 70% of its eligible population vaccinated. With the delta variant 60% more transmissible than previous variants, the death rate would increase to a peak of 850 deaths per day, resulting in a total of 60,000 overall.
It also comes at a time when all schools in the U.S., from preschool to college-level, would theoretically be in session—unless the rising numbers brought about a new implementation of lockdowns.
There’s also a worst-case scenario that projects 240,0000 people getting infected and 4,000 people dying during the peak of the wave, which would rival the high-water mark from the winter of 2020.
Lessler offered that “changes in behavior that we didn’t predict and big shifts in vaccination could very much change these results,” and he observed that by the October peak, many of those susceptible would already have been infected. Then, numbers would go down to more manageable levels.
An interactive page on the Washington Post website illustrated the effects of the delta variant on the unvaccinated population. It showed that the case rate for unvaccinated people in Missouri, one of the states impacted most dramatically by the delta variant, is high as it’s been since mid-January.
That report said, “The country’s summer of freedom from COVID-19 is turning savage for the half of the nation that is still not fully vaccinated.” It also pointed out that in its analysis of the numbers, when adjusted to factor out those who are vaccinated, “the national case rate for unvaccinated people is roughly the same as the unadjusted case rate was more than two months ago—and is rising.”
Likening the U.S.’s pandemic-ending efforts to a plane, William Hanage, an epidemiologist at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said, “We’re not going to be able to land the plane without turbulence. How much turbulence will track with how many people are vaccinated in a given community.”