Coronavirus

UMass model projects rising COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts to level off in January

Still, forecasters expect the second surge to get worse before it gets better.

Local residents waiting in line for COVID-19 testing in Lynn. Pat Greenhouse / The Boston Globe

Researchers are projecting that the increase in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts could begin to level off by mid-January.

But in the near term, the outlook remains grim.

According to a newly updated UMass Amherst model based on dozens of different forecasts, the total number of new infections each week will increase from 33,708 last week to 41,954 by Jan. 2 — an increase of nearly 25 percent — despite recent moves by Gov. Charlie Baker and some cities and towns to tighten restrictions.

The number of deaths will also surpass 500 a week by the New Year, according to the UMass model, which was updated Tuesday. The four-week ensemble forecast projects that the total number of deaths due to COVID-19 in Massachusetts since the beginning of the pandemic will hit 13,120 by Jan. 9.

While the model projects coronavirus deaths — which lag newly reported cases — to continue on their upward trend, it does suggest the surge in cases could begin to ease by the end of the four-week outlook. Compared to the 41,954 cases projected for the week ending Jan. 2, the model predicts 41,524 during the week ending Jan. 9 — which is still significantly higher than current levels.

UMass researchers say their model only projects out four weeks due to the lack of “reliable evidence that the models are accurate past that horizon.”

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The updated projections come as state officials and health experts urge residents to hunker down and limit face-to-face interaction with people outside their household this holiday season. This week, Massachusetts began distributing — and administering – the first shipment of COVID-19 vaccine doses, which officials hope to make gradually more available over the course of the winter and spring.

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Depending on the speed of the vaccine rollout and other variables, a University of Washington model also predicts that Massachusetts could see infection begin to fall in mid-January, with the decline in new deaths coming later in February. By the beginning of April, the University of Washington model predicts that the state will surpass 15,000 total deaths.

A coronavirus simulator from Massachusetts General Hospital offers a more bleak outlook, projecting the number of confirmed infections in Massachusetts to surpass 7,500 a day before leveling off in mid-February. The simulator also forecasts more than 80 deaths a day in Massachusetts from early February through mid-April.

April is also the month that Baker’s administration hopes the COVID-19 vaccine will available the broader public — not just individuals who are more vulnerable or exposed to the disease. Still, officials are urging residents to not view the vaccine as reason to let their guard down.

“It’s not a secret that we’re in a second surge here in Massachusetts,” Baker said Tuesday. “And while hope is clearly right around the corner — arriving in dry ice in the form of the vaccine — it’s not here yet.”

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