Researchers analyzing best-case and worst-case scenarios for COVID-19 outbreak


AUSTIN (KXAN) — The University of Texas at Austin researchers have been studying the best-case scenario and the worst case-scenario for the COVID-19 pandemic — depending on how many people stay home.

The difference in the total number of cases in each scenario is more than a million.

“If we reduce contacts, we can keep the number of cases low. That’s the main takeaway,” said Kelly Pierce, Research Assistant at UT Austin.

According to the analysis, if nothing else was done besides the school closures, there could be 1,767,445 cases between March and August in the Austin-Round Rock area.

If contact was reduced by 75%, that number could decrease to 566,469. If we were at 95% social distancing, there could be 6,206 cases.

“Our primary goal is to explore how effective different social distancing strategies would be,” explained Pierce. “We still have so much uncertainty in trying to describe the effectiveness of these different scenarios, so we’re just trying to paint a picture of possible outcomes.”

“If we were to maintain our social distancing, wear masks, if we just maintained that portion, it looks like we might be able to handle the surge that’s coming,” said Chris Russian, Senior Delegate at the Texas Society for Respiratory Care.

Russian told KXAN he’s been looking at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation’s modeling data.

“The surge by those prediction models looks like somewhere around the 19th to April 25th, give or take a few days,” said Russian.

He said the models he’s been looking at, IHME’s as well as UT’s, are similar.

“If we can just distance ourselves, start wearing masks in public, that’s the best thing we can do,” Russian said. “Just isolate ourselves and stay distant.”

Russian said there are about 15,000 respiratory therapists in Texas. About 800 work in the Austin region.

“Respiratory therapists work with patients who have breathing problems. That can be a patient that’s born prematurely and has to go on a mechanical ventilator and all the way to the elderly,” he explained.

For coronavirus patients, respiratory therapists help by putting a tube into their airway and putting them on a ventilator. It can be a risky job because they have to be so close to patients who might cough while being intubated. That could spew and spread the virus.

“We are very close directly in line with these patients, trying to treat them and they have these fomites coming out that you can’t see in some cases, that could contain the virus, so they’re directly exposed,” Russian said.

He said respiratory therapists are an important part of a healthcare team that treats COVID-19 patients.

“There’s certainly apprehension. There’s certainly nervousness, but a lot of that gets pushed aside when you’re caring for the patient,” Russian explained. “Certainly when they’re off their shift, they sort of you know just explode with this emotion, but while they’re on the shift, doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, clinical lab, physical therapists, all of them are thinking the same thing. I have a job to do, and it is to care for this patient.”

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