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Beware the other side of the COVID curve — pandemic models say thousands will still get sick in coming weeks

A booster shot being administered at the Whittier Street Health Center earlier this month. Even as COVID-19 cases decline, it's crucial to keep taking precautions such as getting vaccinated and boosted, experts say.Pat Greenhouse/Globe Staff

Many people will still get ill even as COVID-19 case counts decline from the peak of the Omicron surge in Massachusetts, experts caution, emphasizing the need to continue to take precautions.

And the numbers are enough to give you pause. Pandemic models suggest tens of thousands of cases will be reported in the next few weeks.

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention ensemble model, updated weekly, predicts that in the four weeks from Jan. 22 to Feb. 19, there will be about 243,000 cases reported in the state, with the daily average sinking to 5,188 on Feb. 19. The model combines a number of models, created by a variety of research groups, that are both more and less pessimistic.

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The seven-day average of confirmed and probable reported cases as of Wednesday was 11,030, according to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health.

The closely watched University of Washington Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation model paints a more optimistic picture.

According to the model, in the period from Jan. 22 to Feb. 19 there will be around 154,000 cases reported. And on Feb. 19, the state will be tallying 1,618 cases per day. Looking further ahead than the CDC model, the IHME model paints an extremely rosy picture, predicting there will only be 171 cases per day recorded in the state on April 1.

Experts have noted that official case numbers likely undershoot the true number of people who are sick in the population, as some people are asymptomatic, while others who are symptomatic may stay home and use at-home tests or not get tested at all.

They also emphasize there’s a major caveat: There’s no guarantee that the decline in the surge will continue to be as steep as it has been in the two weeks since cases peaked around Jan. 11.

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The case numbers could stall at a high level on their way down, prolonging the pain. One key factor is people’s behavior. If people don’t continue to take precautions such as getting vaccinated and boosted and wearing high-quality masks in indoor public spaces, they could stall the decline, experts say.

The latest surge resulted in more than a half-million confirmed and probable cases from the beginning of November, when cases began climbing from a fall plateau, slowly at first but then accelerating, toward the peak.

“Just as many people get infected on that downside as do on the upside,” Justin Lessler, professor of epidemiology at the University of North Carolina Chapel Hill, cautioned last week. “If you draw out that tail - actually far, far more people could get infected on that downside.”

“Caution is still the right way to proceed until things get a lot lower,” he said.



Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.