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UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium releases omicron scenario projections

The consortium studied multiple scenarios of what could happen with omicron in relation to what we've already seen with delta.

AUSTIN, Texas — The University of Texas at Austin's COVID-19 Modeling Consortium has been studying the emergence of the omicron variant in the U.S. and has released some scenario projections of what we could see happen in the coming months.

As of Dec. 15, the consortium said many of the omicron variant's characteristics are unclear, including its transmissibility, its ability to evade vaccine-acquired and infection-acquired immunity and its severity. To try to help with preparedness, the consortium simulated the emergence and spread of omicron in the U.S. across a wide range of possible scenarios.

The consortium used a model that tracks population-level immunity against both the delta and omicron variants derived from infections, primary vaccines and booster vaccines. Using that model, it projected COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths over a six-month period beginning on Dec. 1, 2021, under 18 different scenarios.

Here's a look at some of the major takeaways from the consortium's projections.

Pessimistic scenario: Omicron could lead to largest health care surge to date

The consortium said under a pessimistic scenario where omicron is as transmissible as delta and more evasive of infection-acquired and vaccine-acquired immunity than delta – with 85%, 32% and 22% reduced protection against infection, hospitalization and death, respectively – omicron could lead to the largest health care surge to date unless measures are taken to slow the spread.

The consortium said in this extreme scenario, it projects a wave that peaks on Feb. 3, with cases, hospital admissions and deaths reaching levels that are 2.2, 1.8 and 1.2 times higher than the January 2021 peak.

Optimistic scenario: Omicron surge is mild and peaks in January

Under an optimistic scenario where omicron is 50% more transmissible than delta but far less immune evasive – with only 10% reduction in protection against infection and no reduction in protection against severe outcomes – the consortium projects a significantly milder omicron surge that peaks on Jan. 18. 

This scenario has cases, hospital admissions and deaths reaching levels that are 0.92, 0.57 and 0.46 times the January 2021 peak.

Projection: How beneficial could boosters be in fighting omicron?

The consortium said if 80% of vaccinated individuals are boosted by March 1, rather than the baseline assumption of 57%, it projects that reported cases, hospital admissions and deaths would be reduced by 5%, 12% and 13%, respectively. 

In the consortium's most pessimistic omicron scenario, that translates into averting an expected 1.3 million reported COVID-19 cases, 168,000 hospitalizations and 39,000 deaths between Dec. 1 and May 1.

See the consortium's full report on omicron scenario projections here.

Dr. Spencer Fox, associate director of UT's modeling consortium, joined KVUE on Friday to discuss the projections.

"I think the best advice I could provide right now going into the holidays is to try and take as many precautions as possible and to be flexible with your plans," he said. "I think if you can go and get vaccinated, getting a booster vaccine. I think it's very useful and underutilized to use rapid tests to prevent transmission at holiday gatherings. And I think it's important to continue wearing masks indoors and increase ventilation while gathering as much as possible."

Like it did in the fall semester, the university will be requiring students to get tested for COVID-19 prior to the first day of spring classes. Click here for more information.

Watch the full interview with Dr. Fox below:

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