Experts have predicted for months now that Fall weather may bring with it another wave of COVID-19 cases. Well, those predictions may be coming true, as case numbers begin to surge across the United States.
How do we know the surge is starting?
“We went down to the lowest point lately in early September, around 30,000-35,000 new cases a day. Now we’re back up to (about) 50,000 new cases a day. And it’s going to continue to rise,” Dr. Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said. “This is the fall/winter surge that everyone was worried about. And now it’s happening. And it’s happening especially in the northern Midwest, and the Northern states are getting hit very hard — Wisconsin, Montana, the Dakotas. But it’s going to be nationally soon enough.”
According to Johns Hopkins University, more than 30 states reported an increase in Covid-19 cases this past week. Test positive for the US as a whole averaged 5.1% last week, but in at least 13 states, the number exceeded 10%.
“You’d like to see (the rates) less than 3%, optimally 1% or less,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said. “We’re starting to see a number of states well above that, which is often — in fact, invariably — highly predictive of a resurgence of cases, which historically we know leads to an increase in hospitalizations and then ultimately an increase in deaths.”
In Colorado alone, 1,000 new cases were reported as of Tuesday, October 13th. And in Denver, the case numbers are reportedly as high as they were at the height of the pandemic in May.
“It’s very worrisome. It’s very alarming. This is our highest single-day caseload since March,” Gov. Jared Polis said.
There is a fear that hospitals will not be able to handle the surge if numbers continue to increase as they have. This has already been proven true in Wisconsin, where a field hospital is being opened to help handle the sudden increase in patients.
“Hospitals could again become overwhelmed,” emergency medicine physician Dr. Leana Wen said. “And then we’re not just talking about patients with coronavirus who might be in trouble. It’s also about other patients who might be coming in for heart attacks and strokes and car accidents who may find a situation that’s really untenable.”
A model produced by the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicted that by the end of this year, 410,000 people in the United States will have died from COVID-19. That’s almost 200,000 more deaths in the next 2.5 months
“This winter — this November, December, January, February — could be the worst time in our epidemic,” Hotez said. “Get ready to hunker down.”
Despite the warnings from experts, businesses, schools, churches and more continue to reopen their doors across the US. Many Americans are anxious to get back to reality, even though many of the country’s top disease experts have cautioned against this behavior.
“It’s less excusable this time,” Crystal Watson, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security said. “We have an example of what happens when we reopen these types of businesses for indoor activities.”
What can you do?
Emergency physician Cedric Dark agreed, noting that if everyone would follow the rules and social distance properly, this could go away much quicker.
“If you do things the right way, you can do them,” he said. “If you do them the wrong way, then you’re going to get cases.”
Experts have also expressed concern about the upcoming holidays, saying a surge could be imminent as people travel home to gather and spend time with family and friends they don’t see normally.
“People will bring this back during Thanksgiving, during Christmas, during winter break,” Dark said. “This is a disease that has an incubation period of up to two weeks. So it’s not really safe to say, ‘Okay, I’m going to come home, and come back.’ … By the time you develop symptoms, you’ve already exposed your parents.”
Epidemiologist Andrew Noymer echoed this, saying that this next wave will affect everyone, even the cities that are done with their first waves.
“I expect fall waves starting in mid-October and getting worse as fall heads into winter, and reaching a crescendo certainly after the election,” he said. “Some places will peak around Thanksgiving, some places will peak around Christmas, some places not until January and February.”
We may not be at a complete loss, however. Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch said it’s important to remember that we are the only ones who can stop this, by listening to the experts and taking the proper precautions. Case numbers can still go back down so long as people don’t give up on social distancing.
“We are collectively in control of how many cases or deaths there are,” he said. “Forecasts more than a month from now make sense only if they are conditional on how we behave.”