Most states in the US may have plateaued in terms of daily coronavirus-related deaths, including hard-hit states like Washington, New York, and New Jersey. But experts remain worried that there will be a second wave of COVID-19, a bleak forecast during a time when many states are attempting to reopen their economies. A second wave is likely to come in fall or winter, coinciding with the flu season. Here’s why experts are concerned.
Reopening too quickly
Singapore and Hong Kong have already witnessed the second wave of COVID-19 cases after rushing to reopen stores and businesses. Both countries eased restrictions even though the virus was still present and active among the population.
In the US, if social-distancing guidelines are relaxed too early, we too could see a surge in the spread of the virus. Such a resurgence could overwhelm hospital systems still recovering from the first wave. The danger is highest in areas of high population density.
Take, for instance, the New York Metropolitan Area, the country’s most densely-populated region, and one of the worst-hit by the pandemic. The dire impact of the virus is due in large part to the tightly-packed population, which enabled the virus to rapidly spread from person-to-person.
If restrictions are lifted in such regions before the virus is sufficiently contained, the person-to-person spread of the virus could once again lead to devastating consequences, both for residents and for the healthcare systems still scrambling to keep up with patient demand.
Data from past pandemics
History provides further evidence that the virus could return for a second wave. The H1N1 pandemic, for example, declined in 2009 before returning that fall with even greater levels of hospitalizations. And the Spanish Flu Pandemic of 1918 killed more people in its second coming than it did in its first spell.
It’s unlikely that a COVID-19 vaccine will be available by fall when experts believe the second wave of the virus will rear its ugly head. Such a resurgence would coincide with the flu season, putting a deeper strain on the healthcare system.
But even if we don’t know for sure how severe a second wave could be, or when we should expect it, there are still preparations that states ought to be making right now. For the country’s most vulnerable regions, that means not rushing to reopen public spaces while the virus is still active. Doing what we can to contain the disease now will help us when we face the virus again later this year.