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USF researchers using COVID-19 forecasting models for variant predictions like omicron

Virus Outbreak California
Posted at 7:26 AM, Dec 13, 2021

TAMPA, Fla. — “In many parts of the U.S. there’s been resurgence,” said Dr. Edwin Michael, Professor in Epidemiology at the University of South Florida.

He created SEIRcast, a pandemic forecasting system.

“We’ve been modeling, you know to see what the future might hold and we’ve been looking at three different scenarios,” said Michael.

Experts say a lot of different factors could impact the spread of omicron.

Michael has been watching COVID-19 from the beginning and monitoring data to look into different possibilities of what could happen, like if a new variant like omicron emerged.

“What if a 10% more transmissible variant were to come? Or 25% more transmissible? And a 50% more transmissible? And also can get around the mRNA vaccine, you know reduce the efficacy let’s say by 10%,” said Michael.

According to his models, that combination will cause a large spike in cases going forward.

The next step is now looking to see exactly how contagious this omicron variant is in the United States.

“If you look at data coming out of South Africa, it seems that one, it is two times more transmissible than delta,” said Michael.

The spike in cases in the U.S. will also depend on how much the strain can get around natural and vaccine immunity.

“It’s like a superbug, right? Much more transmissible and also can evade the immune response, and that is the fear,” said Michael.

In South Africa where the omicron variant was first detected, numbers show cases are doubling every two to three days.

Experts say there’s been an explosion of cases there, however, vaccination rates are now.

“But a lot of people have been exposed to the virus so you should expect a large degree of natural immunity in South Africa. That is not holding back omicron. That is telling us it’s not only more transmissible, it might be breaking through the immunity induced from natural infections as well as vaccines induced immunity,” said Michael.

So far the infections in most people who are fully vaccinated have been mild.

“This is a warning to the rest of the world, you know. You have to stop community transmission as rapidly as possible,” said Michael.

That’s why doctors are pushing for booster shots, as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report 27 states, including Florida, have now reported at least one cast of the omicron variant.

“I think the future is going to be very complex because this is going to mutate all the time,” said Michael.