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Experts say COVID-19 cases could double before President-elect Biden takes office in January

A study highlights the importance of maintaining social distancing guidelines

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Photo (c) Peter Zelei images - Getty Images
A new study conducted by researchers from Washington University in St. Louis predicts that COVID-19 cases could double before President-elect Joe Biden takes office in January. 

Researchers at the university have created a COVID-19 forecasting model that they’ve used throughout the pandemic, and it has proved effective in predicting infection trends across the country. In looking towards 2021, the researchers expect to see 20 million positive cases by the end of January if social distancing measures remain as they are. 

“One of the key reasons for the increased accuracy of this model over other COVID-19 forecasts is that this model accounts for the fact that people live in interconnected social networks rather than interacting mostly with random groups of strangers,” said researcher Raphael Thomadsen. “This allows the model to forecast that growth will not continue at exponential rates for long periods of time, as classic COVID-19 forecasts predict.” 

Social distancing can keep consumers healthy

To push back on the rising number of COVID-19 cases, the researchers recommend stricter social distancing guidelines. They explained that this is consumers’ best defense against the virus, and even small efforts can prevent millions of positive cases. 

Current social distancing recommendations have allowed various aspects of life to return to 60 percent of “normal” levels when compared to life before the pandemic. However, if this trend continues, consumers can expect to see upwards of 20 million positive COVID-19 cases by the end of January 2021. 

This isn’t set in stone, though. If social distancing guidelines tighten up by just 10 percent, the researchers say approximately five million cases could be prevented. 

“Going back to a 50 percent return to normalcy, which was the average level of distancing in early August, would likely result in 5 million fewer cases by the end of January,” said Thomadsen. “We could effectively squash out the COVID growth within a few weeks if we went back to the levels of social distancing we experienced in April.”

The holidays will determine a lot

With the holidays right around the corner, the researchers anticipate that future COVID-19 trends will depend a great deal on how consumers choose to celebrate. In an effort to reduce rising infection rates, both Dr. Anthony Fauci and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have urged consumers to keep gatherings small and eliminate travel this holiday season. 

However, the researchers anticipate that more than 20 million positive cases could be identified by January if consumers ignore those warnings. 

“The upcoming holiday seasons will provide a great deal of uncertainty to the outlook of the pandemic as people travel more at the end of the year,” said researcher Meng Liu. “This will likely make our forecast an optimistic one.” 

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