‘We all wish we had a crystal ball’: State epidemiologist speaks on future of COVID-19

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SALT LAKE CITY, Utah (ABC4 News) – White House medical advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci said he hopes for a level of control over COVID-19 by spring of next year. Utah’s state epidemiologist Dr. Leisha Nolen said she’s looking at the situation in short-term predictions.  

An end to the COVID-19 pandemic is in the hands of the American people, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, who said to the unvaccinated “get vaccinated and the timeframe will be truncated dramatically.”

Vaccinations, he said, remain critical in limiting the viruses spread in communities across the country; and Dr. Nolen agrees.

“To get back to a regular life and not worry about this virus, we’re going to need to get more people vaccinated,” she said.

However, when it comes to predicting the future, Dr. Nolen said she does not try to predict ‘far out’ and prefers to take it by “small steps that we can see in the [near] future”.

“I know it’s been really frustrating for people; things change all the time and it’s not just our understanding of the virus, but also the virus itself changes, which makes it a hard game to play,” she said. “We all wish we had a crystal ball and all we can do is look at what’s happening and what we think is going to happen.”

Based on current models in Utah, Dr. Nolen said COVID-19 cases are expected to increase even more this fall and winter, and it’s due to students going back to school.

“Already, we have about three times more cases in kids this year, today, than we did last year,” she said.  

Dr. Nolen said predictions can change based on human behavior and how people choose to protect themselves and those around them.

“We can do that through vaccination, we can do that from masking, we can do that in many different ways and do the safe thing as possible, so we can make things move in the right direction,” Dr. Nolen said.

ABC4 asked Dr. Nolen if high case counts this fall and winter will bring greater immunity come spring?

She said it’s hard to know.

“If the virus mutates, protection of infection would really be minimal,” she said. “And we already see that with people who were infected with the previous variant aren’t as protected as the Delta variant, and that could continue to happen as we have new variants.”

Experts predict the virus is here to stay for quite some time, and Dr. Nolen said the trend with any virus or infection is it’s severe in the beginning, and then over time it evolves to become less severe or more common.

“We can see it’s mutating a lot already and so maybe some of those mutations will eventually lead to something that’s easily transmissible, but mild, and in which case, there would be much less concern,” she said. “I don’t think it will suddenly go away, but I think it might get to a point where it’s something that’s not as significant of a disease, and something we can just live within our communities.”

While COVID-19 continues to infect the lives of Utahns, Dr. Nolen said it’s critical we continue to do our part in limiting the spread of COVID-19 to Utahns out of the hospital and prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed.

“The hospitals are really stretched, and the hospital staff are having a really hard time keeping people on because it’s just been a year and a half of really extreme pressure on them,” she said.  

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