AUSTIN (KXAN) — While more drastic measures like a shelter-in-place order or mask mandate are not being discussed by local health leaders right now, the metrics for the guidelines are shifting again, and health leaders are nothing short of begging people to brace for another surge of COVID-19 — this time brought on by the omicron variant.
“We are asking our community to stand up and fight with us,” Dr. Desmar Walkes said at the end of a briefing Tuesday, where local health leaders pleaded with the community to wear masks in public places regardless of vaccination status, test while traveling and get fully vaccinated and boosted.
The plea comes after 16 projections were put forward by the University of Texas Modeling Consortium that showed a number of possible outcomes for the United States depending on how dangerous the omicron variant ends up being. Many factors of the omicron variant are still unknown.
The most dramatic of those 16 projections showed if the omicron variant was as transmissible as delta and was more evasive of immunity acquired by vaccines or infection, there could be a dramatic new wave of infections. Hospital admissions would be 1.8 times higher, and deaths would be 1.2 times higher.
“The number of cases would be increased really a lot,” said Jose Herrera, a research associate for the UT COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
On the other end of the spectrum, researchers found even if omicron was 50% more transmissible than delta, but less immune evasive, the number of hospitalizations were lower. They also factored in behavior, like getting vaccinated, into the projections.
“If we increase the number of vaccinated individuals in a population from 57%, which is approximately right now in the state of Texas, all the way to 80%, we would reduce almost in half the number of hospitalized individuals,” Herrera said.
There are still a significant number of unknowns when it comes to the omicron variant. Herrera says while the variant is certainly proving to be more transmissible than delta, it’s still not clear how much more transmissible. It’s also not clear how severe the symptoms are comparatively.
Dr. Walkes noted omicron could have appeared less severe early on, as cases were being largely reported in South Africa, because of the younger-leaning population there. Studies from the U.K., which has a population makeup closer to that of the United States, show the omicron variant may actually be comparable to delta.
‘Behavior matters a lot’
The Austin-Travis County projections dashboard shows an overall increase in the number of cases, hospitalizations and people admitted to ICUs between now and the new year. Herrera warned that without personal intervention, those will continue to climb.
“The take-home message in general in this case is that, definitely, our behavior matters and matters a lot,” Herrera said. “Every little thing, every little thing that we do in order to avoid infection or to avoid infecting others is really important in this case.”
That was echoed Tuesday by health leaders, who warned hospitals and ICUs could be overrun again if people don’t make swift adjustments.
“The things that we do now will set the path for our future,” Walkes said. “If we don’t act now we’re going to have a very hard new year.”