Experts Predict What A Second Wave Of Coronavirus Will Be Like
There has been much speculation as to whether and when a second wave of coronavirus is falling on us and whether it may be more serious than the first comb.
This eventually happened in the past with respiratory infections such as the 1918 flu pandemic, in which a second wave was far more devastating and deadly than the first.
However, epidemiologists - the people who study the patterns and causes of diseases - warn against assuming that COVID-19 behaves like the infectious diseases we've seen before. This is a brand new virus and it is not clear whether this pandemic will experience a second wave.
Several epidemiologists who spoke to HuffPost suggested that the first wave would continue to swell, with daily cases and deaths increasing and decreasing in certain areas until the population finally reached herd immunity - without wide availability Vaccine seems unlikely.
However, we have never looked at this particular virus before, so we really don't know what the pandemic will look like in three months. "We're in completely unknown waters here," said Anne Rimoin, professor of epidemiology at the UCLA Fielding School of Public Health.
This is what epidemiologists think about a second wave:
Why do second waves happen?
First, let's look at what we know about second waves in general by looking at our old friend's influenza. The flu is a seasonal disease. It spreads well in cold, dry air, especially when people curl up indoors in winter.
"We are seeing first and second waves of these because they are seasonal," said Christine Johnson, University of California, Davis professor of epidemiology and researcher on the US Agency for International Development's Emerging Pandemic Threats PREDICT project.
The flu virus also mutates easily. Every year we see new variations of the flu, and the second and third waves in a particular flu season are often caused by stresses that are different from those behind the first wave. We just saw this in the 2019-2020 flu season: B strains struck first, then A strain variations came in a second wave.
But we're dealing with COVID-19, not the flu - and that's an important distinction. Jennifer Horney, disaster epidemiologist and founding director of the University of Delaware epidemiology program, said that predicting the behavior of a new virus due to other diseases harbors a "paradox of false expectations".
Recent flu pandemics - like avian influenza in 2005 and the H1N1 outbreak in 2009 - may have given us the wrong idea about how COVID-19 will develop, Horney said. These past outbreaks have occurred in several waves due to the behavior of their flu viruses and have been transmitted.
Epidemiologists do their best with previous models and adapt as we learn more about this corona virus. Ultimately, however, the COVID-19 virus has its own viral behavior patterns. "Since it's a novel, we don't yet know what it will look like," said Horney.
(Photo: Nuthawut Somsuk via Getty Images)
The following could happen with COVID-19.
It's hard to say for sure, but here's what epidemiologists believe could occur over time.
We know that this coronavirus spreads easily from person to person. In the summer months, people are more outdoors and can stay further apart - this definitely reduces transmission, according to Johnson. But in the fall and winter, people will do more indoor activities and the coronavirus could thrive in closed environments.
The closure of schools and restrictions on businesses this spring have also kept people apart, just as the reopening brings us back together.
"When the schools reopen and people go back to the office - a lot of people say we go back to the office after work day - you could see a big increase in some cases because people will get together," said Rimoin.
Unfortunately, we don't know how the corona virus responds to weather changes. While the flu flows with the seasons, there is currently no evidence that COVID-19 does the same. Check out what's happening in hot weather locations like Arizona, Florida, and Texas. (Not to mention Brazil and Peru.)
The corona virus has also mutated, but is not as fast and drastic as the flu virus. Rimoin said a new mutation could potentially cause a bigger wave, but so far this virus has not mutated in a way that suggests this will happen.
For a second wave to occur, the first wave must be checked and new cases must be close to zero for weeks, Johnson said. Some countries - including New Zealand and Iceland - have achieved this, but the United States has not even come close. Coronavirus cases are increasing in almost half of the U.S. states, and as the states are reopening, all experts who have spoken to HuffPost expect the cases to increase.
In other words, the current wave will continue to come in. "We're in a very slow roller coaster," said Horney.
Rimoin added that it will likely continue until we have herd immunity - when the vast majority of the population is immune to the disease. Realistically speaking, we cannot expect to achieve herd immunity without a vaccine.
"Without a vaccine, past infections that offer antibody protection make it fairly impossible to get herd immunity," said Horney.
Conclusion: We have never seen COVID-19 before.
The truth is, we really can't tell what will happen next. We can build models and make predictions, but so much is unknown about COVID-19.
"I think we would all like to know what will happen [but] we have never been in this situation," said Rimoin.
We have to keep social distance, wear our masks and wash our hands to stem this epidemic. Areas where there is a significant increase in new cases may need to be closed again to avoid overloading local health systems.
"I understand some of the tiredness and exhaustion and the need to have social welfare and economic progress," said Johnson. "But the virus doesn't stick to the other concerns we have."
Experts are still learning about the novel corona virus. The information in this story is known or available at the time of printing, but the possible guidance on COVID-19 could change as scientists learn more about the virus. For the most up-to-date recommendations, see the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
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