Stay-home orders and social distancing measures appear to be working to slow the spread of the new coronavirus in Virginia, but models like one from the University of Virginia show significant COVID-19 concerns are likely to stretch at least into the fall.
If restrictions are totally lifted when Gov. Ralph Northam’s current executive order expires on June 10, the UVA model projects a surge in coronavirus cases this summer, with Northern Virginia hospitals the first in the state likely to be overwhelmed beyond capacity starting sometime between July and September.
Researchers and state officials aim to prevent that surge from taking place using other measures or extending some current protections, but the Virginia-specific model underlines the long-term nature of the coronavirus concerns.
In a briefing on the models Monday afternoon organized by the Northam administration, experts highlighted the need to ensure enough hospital beds, protective gear and medical staff, since preparing one extra bed may cost a few thousand dollars but preparing too few would cost lives.
There are a variety of models that are being factored into planning, each of which is continually updated based on new research, assumptions, testing results and deaths.
The UVA model assumes that only 15% of cases were actually detected at the start of the outbreak in the winter, and that each infected person at the start infected two to three other people on average.
It projects Virginia as a whole has enough medical resources for a few months under current stay-home directives, but that lifting social distancing restrictions too soon would quickly lead to a major spike in infections that would change that.
Under current stay-at-home orders, UVA researchers believe each infected person is now only passing the novel coronavirus on to about 1.1 other people, which has helped hold the number of confirmed new cases steady over the last few weeks.
The researchers believe people will adapt to the new risks and continue to limit trips out when things do slowly reopen, which could continue to help limit the spread of the virus and other similar illnesses.
The state and the nation could have to implement other major changes to help limit the spread, said Virginia Health Secretary Dan Carey.
“We definitely need to have additional strategies, and whether that turns out to be complex testing of who is allowed to do what based on antibody tests, by thermography, meaning temperature measurement going into workplaces …. and how to do that in a complex open society like the U.S. and Virginia in a nuanced and responsible way, we’ve got to develop that,” Carey said.
Virginia will also have to consider what would trigger reinstituting stay-at-home orders or other social distancing rules when another round of infections comes, Carey said.
“We don’t have this all figured out,” Carey said, but the state is looking at what the options are to get businesses reopened and keep people safe.
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