ASTIN (KXAN) – The number of COVID-19 cases is low in a few weeks and after hospitalization, these rates are rising again in Austin-Travis County.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention lowered COVID-19 risk levels to “moderate” in Travis and Hayes counties. The level of risk is low, medium, and high and is determined by three factors: the number of new cases in the last seven days, the number of new hospitalizations in the last seven days, and the percentage of staff hospital beds used by COVID-19. patients.
KXAN’s Grace Reader Austin spoke with Anas Buchnita, a postdoctoral researcher at UT of the COVID-19 modeling consortium, about what to expect locally. The transcript below is corrected for length.
Reader: We were on a break this summer, and people are starting to get back to normal. As the data shows, where are we with these COVID numbers?
Buchnita: We’ve seen a few months, and the numbers were very small, but in the last two weeks, the number of cases and the number of hospitalizations have started to increase again. Here, in Austin, the numbers seem to be increasing and will probably continue to increase for weeks or months.
Reader: At the end of last summer, we also had a little peak, but it came later. Where are we relative?
Bushnita: There are several factors: There are various omicron subvariants currently competing with each other and we have new, aggressive variants, BA.4 and BA.5, which have begun to spread. We generally expect an increase in viral infection because these options can get rid of previous immunity, but this is not the only factor. We have closed schools, and this is good news, because the closure of schools will help reduce infection and infection in the community.
Reader: It also looks like the FDA may eventually give the green flag to vaccinate children under the age of five. What role does this play?
Buchnita: I think it’s very useful, because the more immune our population is, the less likely it is that the virus will spread. I think this will have a very positive effect with the permission of the second amplifiers. We hope that these two increase immunity and I think the time to make these decisions is very important because we need more immunity to keep this new wave going.
Reader: Tell us a little bit about that declining immunity.
Buchnita: Four or five months after the first omicron wave, we had a lot of infections, so we expect a lot of people to lose their immunity quickly. At the moment, when we have BA.4 and BA.5 growing and our immunity is declining, I think this is the best time to be aware of the vaccine. I think this is very important for people and, of course, we must not forget about the other arsenal we have.
Reader: What models will be shown in the next few weeks and months? What do people expect to move forward?
Buchnita: Honestly, we are still working on this issue and expect to issue a report in the next few weeks, but what we can say at the moment is that it really depends on each place. We still have some uncertainties regarding the properties of the new options, BA.4 and BA.5.
If these two options are to get rid of immunity in advance, we expect the numbers to continue to grow until the fall, and we will have a very serious wave, but it will not be as sharp as the first omicron wave. On the other hand, if there is good cross-protection between BA.4, BA.5 and the previous immunity, the incidence of immunodeficiency will still increase, but it will come very slowly. Time for us to anticipate and prepare.
Reader: Since we, as the city of Austin, have moved to the lower, middle, and upper levels of the CDC, do you show us when we can move from that middle level to that high level?
Bushnit: I can’t tell you any exact numbers or exact predictions, because, as I said, it really depends on the uncertainty we have, but we expect that not to happen any time soon. It will take time, and we think that this wave will be gradual, depending on the level of immunity we have. It also depends on people’s behavior and how many amplifiers are used in the coming weeks.
Reader: What do we know about BA.4 and BA.5? And what do you want to know now?
Bushnita: We have some clinical studies that show that BA.4 and BA.5 can get rid of immunity, so people who have been infected with some omicron subvariants are more likely to be re-infected with BA.4 and BA.5. Since they are naturally distributed in BA.12 and BA.2 and BA.1, we know that they are more contagious, but we do not know to what extent.
Another factor is the pathogenicity of this option. Thus, there are reports that these options may be stricter than the previous sub-option. We believe that this may be a determining factor in the increase in hospitalizations and deaths.
Reader: What do people need to do to move forward?
Buchnita: We know what works against COVID. We know that amplifiers work very well against all variants and all omicron subvariants. If they can’t, then we know it’s a good time to wear masks and get back to physical distance.
Reader: Is there anything you want to say, add, that you think people should know now?
Buchnita: I want to enjoy the summer myself, but I think it’s important to think about the vulnerable people out there who are at serious risk if they catch COVID. I think it is very important to gain strength, get vaccinated, maintain physical distance, get tested and wear a mask.