Forecast: How bad will Covid winter be?


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  • Forecast: Will there be a week with 40,000 new Covid-19 hospitalizations in the US by end of 2023?
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How bad will Covid winter be?

The CDC announced this week that it will no longer be issuing Covid vaccine cards, a sign of just how relaxed the US has become about the virus.

But is that laissez-faire attitude justified? A late summer wave of Covid prompted a series of “not over yet” articles and warnings of another surge come winter.

In the US, new Covid hospitalizations are currently at about three-quarters of last year’s levels—and are only about a third of the levels seen this time in 2021. Does that mean the virus’s toll will be milder this winter?

Covid is notoriously hard to forecast, but several factors should affect its spread and severity:

Immunity: About 80% of Americans have gotten at least one shot of Covid vaccine, though that number varies a lot by geography. Nearly everyone in the Northeast has gotten a shot; only 60% of Wyoming residents have. Most of those shots were delivered in 2021, but luckily immunity to severe illness seems not to fade very quickly. And more than three-quarters of Americans have already had Covid, so nearly everyone has some immunity built up. It’s too early to say how many people will get the new boosters.

New variants: Perhaps the biggest risk is the possibility that a new variant evades our existing immunity. As of August, the most common variant in the US was EG.5, which contains some notable mutations but is expected to be fairly well contained by the new boosters. Then there’s BA.2.86 or “Pirola.” “The reason people are worried about it is that it has a lot of change, especially in the spike gene, which is what vaccines target,” said William Hanage, an epidemiologist at Harvard, in a September interview. “That has not really been seen since the original emergence of Omicron.”

Behavior: The more people mingle indoors this winter, the more Covid should spread. The more people mask, test, and isolate when they’re not feeling well, the more it should be contained. More than ever, though, these practices are optional: Fewer and fewer organizations are enforcing vaccine mandates or other Covid protocols.

It’s worth noting that crowd forecasting has done pretty well on Covid-19, compared to formal epidemiological modeling. That could be evidence for the wisdom of the crowd. Or, it could just show how hard it is for anyone to predict the next phase of a pandemic.

Forecast

Will there be a week with 40,000 new Covid-19 hospitalizations in the US by end of 2023?

​Very likely (~90% chance)

Likely (~70%)

Uncertain (~50%)

Unlikely (~30%)

Very unlikely (~10%)

Bonus trivia: Vaccination rates differ drastically between Blue and Red states. Of the states that Biden won in 2020, which has the lowest share of residents fully vaccinated? Arizona, Georgia, or Michigan?

(Make a forecast by clicking a link above and you'll get to answer this trivia question.)

Just want to make a quick forecast? Click a link above and you're done! Your forecast will be recorded.

Or, click a link and then complete the survey. You can provide your reasoning and end with a bit of trivia.

Deadline: Make a forecast by 9am ET Tues. 10/10.

Resolution criteria: This question will resolve based on CDC data you can find here. Last week of the year will be the last week with a "Date" from the CDC in 2023. (Dates are for the last day in the week, so this will be the last week that ends in 2023.) Any revisions to the data released after data for the last week of 2023 is published won't count. (Ie, whatever the data says in early Jan. when I check goes.)

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