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Mayo Clinic COVID-19 study provides 'best guess' about pandemic's future

Minnesota could be seeing decreasing numbers into the summer if the study is correct.

What would've happened in Minnesota had a vaccine for COVID-19 never been created? It would've blown away the darkest days of the pandemic last October-December when Minnesota at one point had 1,840 people hospitalized because of the virus. 

The study, which is self-proclaimed by Mayo Clinic experts as a "best guess" for what would've happened, shows a graph where the peak of a spring/summer surge ongoing now would've more than doubled the fall 2020 peak (graph further below). 

The analysis dissected four hypothetical scenarios, ranging from no vaccination available to 75% of the state's population being vaccinated by April 6 (the date the study was published). 

The research suggests cases and hospitalizations could continue to rise in the coming weeks, though unlikely to reach the levels of the fall surge. The reason for the potential continued rise is the expectation of the vaccine supply outweighing demand for the drug. The study explains: 

"The current administration has suggested that everyone who would like to receive a vaccine will be able to receive one by May 1, 2021. However, surveys indicate that half of American adults are hesitant to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and lack of understanding of the benefits of vaccination is an important barrier to use."

Research shows the supply will begin to outweigh demand once 50-75% of Minnesota's population is vaccinated. As of April 20, approximately 53.3% of Minnesotans have received at least one shot, and 38% of the population has completed the vaccine series. 

Results of the study

Figure 1 shows the study's "best guess" for how the pandemic will evolve based on the rate of vaccination through April 6. 

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The dashed lines in the graphs are estimated to contain 50% certainty (floor and ceiling levels), while the solid line is 90% certain up to four weeks out. The study was written on April 6, so the four-week period of assumed certainty is nearly up. 

That's key, and appears to be fairly accurate, because the study found as of April 6 there was a probability that the current rise in COVID cases in Minnesota was likely to "continue for a few more weeks before decreasing into the summer." 

It's been just over two weeks since the study was published and there are definitely indicators the surge may be plateauing, as the state has not reported more than 2,000 cases in any single day since last week after a couple of weeks of 2,000-plus cases daily. 

Figure 2 shows a hypothetical future in which a COVID-19 vaccine did not exist under our current behavior patterns with current strains of the virus. This is where all hell breaks loose, which is unrealistic because vaccines do exist. 

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Figure 3 shows a scenario that examines resulting cases and hospitalizations in the event that no further vaccinations are given. This is also unrealistic because Minnesotans continue to receive the vaccine. 

Screen Shot 2021-04-22 at 2.25.56 PM

Figure 4 explores what would happen if the population were 75% vaccinated right now. This is where Minnesota wants to be, creating a situation where the number of protected people is greater than those who remain susceptible to the virus.  

Screen Shot 2021-04-22 at 2.27.00 PM

Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota, said during his podcast this week there remains "substantial activity" in Minnesota. 

But even the best predictive models don't always accurately project what will happen in a pandemic. 

"At this point, it's anybody's guess and anybody who tells you they know what's going to happen, be careful. I know they have a bridge to sell you too," said Osterholm. 

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