This Is Exactly When the Delta Variant Surge Will Peak, Expert Says

Computer models show that things are going to worse before they get better.

After a winter that saw the worst COVID-19 case numbers recorded, many were hoping the warmer months would usher in the end of the pandemic as vaccines rolled out to the public. Instead, summer has seen a highly contagious mutated strain of the virus spread fast and wide enough for new infections to return to heights not seen in months in most areas. And with cases continuing to trend upwards, one expert says it will still be a while before the Delta variant surge reaches its peak, The Washington Post reports.

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According to Jeffrey Shaman, PhD, an epidemiologist from Columbia University, a recent model developed by his team of researchers predicts that the current surge of new cases fueled by the Delta variant will likely peak in four to five weeks. The forecast suggests this would bring the U.S. to "a little over a million cases for the whole week," which would average to more than 140,000 new cases each day at its height.

Shaman says the relaxing of public health protocols such as mask-wearing and social distancing is helping to fuel the surge. "The central issue is that people want to put the pandemic and the virus behind them," he told The Post, citing examples of large crowds in attendance at baseball games or bars without face masks.

Other models have hinted at similar timelines with even worse outcomes. A forecast from a team at the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted that cases would continue to rise through mid-August before leveling off around an average of 300,000 new cases a day. The same model also found that if face masks were suddenly to become universally adopted, the same number of cases would be one-tenth than what is currently predicted.

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The forecasts come as the vaccination rate in the U.S. also saw a surge over the weekend. Saturday saw 816,203 doses administered nationwide, making it the fifth day in a row to top 700,000 doses, according to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

"This may be a tipping point for those who have been hesitant to say, 'OK, it's time,'" Francis Collins, MD, director of the National Institutes of Health, said during an interview with CNN on August 1. "I hope that's what's happening. That's what desperately needs to happen if we're going to get this Delta variant put back in its place."

An internal CDC report first obtained by The Post outlined the agency's concerns over the Delta variant and the current surge. The document states that the strain is more contagious than MERS, SARS, Ebola, the common cold, the seasonal flu, and smallpox, making it about as contagious as chickenpox.

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The information is thought to have influenced the agency's decision on July 27 to walk back its recommendation that fully vaccinated people no longer needed to wear a face-covering while indoors in public spaces. "Given higher transmissibility and current vaccine coverage, universal masking is essential to reduce transmission of the Delta variant," the report suggested.

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Zachary Mack
Zachary is a freelance writer covering beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. Read more
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