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UT model: COVID-19 cases likely to decline in Waco by October

UT model: COVID-19 cases likely to decline in Waco by October

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A new COVID-19 projection model for the Waco region predicts a 31% decrease in infections in the next 14 days, compared to the previous two weeks, and an overall decline in coronavirus-related hospitalizations through early October.

The University of Texas at Austin’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium launched new online dashboards Tuesday to track the spread of the coronavirus and its impact on hospitals and communities in 22 different areas across the state.

The Waco-area model includes the counties of McLennan, Limestone, Hill, Falls and Bosque, and uses hospitalization data along with anonymous cellphone mobility data from the area to predict how the coronavirus pandemic is progressing here and affecting local health care resources.

The model for Waco varies quite a bit when projecting COVID-19 hospitalizations for the fall. For Sept. 22, the model projects between 4 to 79 hospitalizations, with a median projection of 22.

Each scenario is equally possible, said Lauren Ancel Meyers, consortium director and Denton A. Cooley Centennial Professor in the Departments of Integrative Biology and Statistics and Data Sciences.

“Given what we know today, it is possible that we could see cases increasing or decreasing, and this is sort of our best guess right now for what’s going to happen,” she said. “These kinds of projections are particularly informative at times when we are seeing increasing numbers of cases, increasing numbers of hospitalizations in our community. It helps us anticipate whether we have enough hospital capacity and make plans to provide more resources and also to enact measures to slow spread when needed.”

Meyers said the models are based on certain assumptions, including that about 4% of people with COVID-19 will need hospital treatment at some point and that roughly 43% of all infected people do not show symptoms. Based on those assumptions, an estimated 20% of Waco-area residents have been infected since the pandemic started, according to an Aug. 11 report by the UT consortium.

The model uses hospitalization data instead of positive case counts because hospital data is a more reliable indicator of how the virus is spreading and the burden it is placing on local health care systems, Meyers said. The anonymous cellphone mobility data gives the researchers an idea of when and where people are moving around their communities. For example, Meyers said they saw an uptick in cellphone mobility activity when students returned to schools.

With schools reopening, McLennan County has started to see an increase in younger people testing positive, but they are less likely to get sick enough to require hospitalization. During the previous COVID-19 surge, the state saw younger people likely to get the coronavirus, which eventually spread to the broader community, said Spencer Fox, consortium associate director and researcher in integrative biology.

“While we’re only looking at the hospitalizations, based on the trends we saw in the other surge in June and July, we feel that as infection numbers start to rise, they will eventually lead to hospitalizations,” he said. “The hospitalization metric is a more stable metric because it’s more consistent through time.”

The projections only extend about four weeks out because the researchers know that the way people behave, such as taking precautions like wearing masks and social distancing, affect the way the coronavirus spreads, Meyers said.

“When we take those precautions, we can really dramatically slow the spread of the virus, and when we don’t, we see large upticks and, in some cases, alarming surges in hospitalizations,” she said. “Because we don’t have a crystal ball about the policies that will be enacted and the decisions that individuals will make, we really can’t predict what’s going to happen beyond three or four weeks out.”

The researchers are working on developing similar projection models for schools that will show the likelihood of someone showing up to a school infected, using information such as when schools opened and the prevalence of the virus in the community, Meyers said.

The dashboard is available at https://covid-19.tacc.utexas.edu/texas-projections.

Meanwhile, the Waco-McLennan County Public Health District reported Tuesday that 43 more people tested positive for COVID-19, bringing the county total to 7,231.

An estimated 488 people are currently sick with the disease, according to the health district. Waco hospitals were treating 39 COVID-19 patients as of Tuesday, including 32 McLennan County residents and six people who are on ventilators.

Again, the 18-25 age group yielded the highest number of people testing positive with 12, followed by six people in their 30s and five people in their late 20s. Five children between ages 1 and 17 also tested positive.

Baylor University President Linda Livingstone said in a letter to parents Tuesday that the in the past week the university has seen a decrease in the number of people who are currently sick with COVID-19.

The university’s dashboard listed 116 active cases as of Tuesday afternoon and a seven-day average rate of tests coming back positive of 3.4%. That is down from a week ago, when Baylor reported 264 active cases and an average positivity rate of 4.29%.

McLennan Community College reported four active cases Tuesday among students, staff and visitors. Three students tested positive for COVID-19 and one staff member or visitor.

Waco Independent School District reported one new active case on its online dashboard Tuesday at University High School, in addition to three previously reported cases at Kendrick Elementary School. The district does not distinguish between students and staff members unless more than five cumulative cases have been reported at a campus.

Midway ISD reported a total of nine active cases among students and staff Tuesday. A fourth-grader at Hewitt Elementary, a third-grader at South Bosque Elementary, a sixth-grader and staff member at River Valley Intermediate, a staff member at Spring Valley Elementary, and four high school students are currently sick with COVID-19, according to the district’s dashboard.


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