It wouldn’t technically be a “second wave” since the “first wave” never really ended in the U.S. But this country could very likely see a real surge in Covid-19 coronavirus cases later this Fall or Winter.
Covid-19 coronavirus cases already seem to be increasing increasingly in many parts of the country recent weeks. If the current Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic were the Marvel Cinematic Universe “Infinity Saga,” this would still be the “oh, there’s someone named Thanos” stage and before the “what the heck is an Ant-Man” stage. A study published in The Lancet in late September, suggested that as of late July, fewer than 10 percent of the U.S. population had been infected with severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV2) at some point. That means that the virus still has plenty of opportunities to keep spreading. And that’s not even considering the possibility that immunity to the SARS-CoV2 may not result from an infection or may wear off over time.
The U.S. never really controlled the spread of the virus. With over 7.6 million cases and over 213,000 deaths already and most states still showing upwards trends, the U.S. contained the virus about as well as a pair of fishnet stocking can hold your “Venti, Half-Whole Milk, Half-Watermelon Sugar, Half-Lemonade, Extra hot, Split Quad Shots, All About That Bass, No Foam Latte” order.
As I reported previously for Forbes, an outbreak in New Zealand showed how just a few new cases can quickly lead to a bunch more. Therefore, expecting things to not get worse in the U.S. sometime in the near future can be like expecting the Kardashians not to post something on social media. At this point, the virus might as well say, “I am inevitable,” to this country. With so many people around the country still carrying the virus, even a relatively small change can trigger more aggressive spread. Here then are eight factors that could make for a bad Fall and Winter:
1. Lower humidity and lower temperatures.
The Covid-19 coronavirus isn’t the flu. Repeat, it isn’t the flu. The flu and Covid-19 are not the same. The same the flu and covid-19 are not, as Yoda would say.
However, both are respiratory viruses. And the flu has long demonstrated a “seasonal” pattern. Flu cases tend to pick up in the Fall and Winter and subside in the later Spring and Summer. Studies have suggested several possible mechanisms for this observed fluctuation that depend on temperature and relative humidity. As Anice C. Lowen, PhD, and John Steel, PhD, from the Emory University School of Medicine described in a Journal of Virology publication, influenza viruses may survive longer in colder temperatures. Also, relative humidity can change the size and composition of virus-carrying respiratory droplets. At lower relative humidity, the salts in respiratory droplet may crystallize out leading to lower salt concentrations that are better for virus survival. Less water vapor in the air can also result in more evaporation of water from respiratory droplets, leading to smaller respiratory droplet size. Smaller droplets may travel further and hang in the air longer. These droplets may have higher concentrations of live virus as well.
Then there’s you. Your body is not only a wonderland, it works like an amusement park too, changing as the seasons change. With dropping temperatures and relative humidity, the defenses in your respiratory tract may not be as strong. The tiny little hairs, mucus, and cells that are supposed to remove junk from your respiratory tract may not work as effectively.
There’s a good chance that the same mechanisms will be at play for the SARS-CoV2. So far, two studies, one conducted in 30 provinces in China and published in the journal Science of The Total Environment (as opposed to Science of A Fraction of the Environment) and another conducted in New South Wales, Australia, and published in the journal Transboundary and Emerging Diseases, have found that over time decreasing relative humidity was associated with increases in the number of Covid-19 coronavirus cases. For example, the Australian study showed that a decrease in relative humidity of 1% correlated with a 7% to 8% increase in reported Covid-19 cases. This study found no association with temperature, rainfall or wind speed. Thus, in effect, maybe it’s not the heat. it’s the humidity.
Keep in mind too that increased transmission could mean more severe Covid-19 cases and potentially higher mortality too. Similar to bedazzling, all Covid-19 coronavirus infections aren’t the same. The initial amount of virus (and rhinestones) may matter. As a Short Communication in the International Journal of Infectious Diseases suggested, the more virus that first gets into your respiratory tract, the worse the infection may end up being. Therefore, if the respiratory droplets tend to have higher amounts of active virus when the temperature and humidity drop, the resulting infections could be more dangerous and deadly.
2. Businesses re-opening.
There’s a reason why many businesses were closed in March and April. That reason is still around. If SARS-CoV2 transmission had dropped during the Summer due to higher temperatures and higher relative humidity, it could give a false of security about the safety of re-opening. Moreover, opening businesses while the virus is still spreading in the surrounding community can be a bit like throwing some cheddar slices on a Apple laptop computer and calling it mac-and-cheese. It gives the false superficial sense that everything is OK when it really isn’t.
3. Schools re-opening.
This deserves its own category for one main reason: kids can be gross. Keeping them apart can be like keeping apart magnets that really want to stick things in each others’ ears. Kids, as well as adults who behave like kids, can treat boundaries like the rules in a Presidential debate. They may be unlikely to follow social distancing rules unless there are immediate consequences or someone quickly lowers a cone of silence.
4. Shifting from outdoor to indoor gatherings.
Compared to indoor settings, the outdoors has more ventilation to blow away the virus and more space to allow people to stay at least one Denzel apart from each other. (Denzel Washington is about six feet tall.) social distancing. Staying outdoors during the late Fall and Winter may be more feasible in warmer locations. However, in colder locations, spending the majority of your time outdoors can be as practical as wearing just a thong to play ice hockey.
5. The flu and other respiratory illnesses.
Things can get real confusing when other Winter illnesses pick up as well. What’s causing that fever? Is it Covid-19, the flu, the respiratory syncytial virus (RSV), adenovirus, not enough cowbell, or something else? Earlier on in the Covid-19 illness course, it may be difficult to tell what exactly you may have. Unless you happen to work in the White House, you may not have access to regular testing. You could end up missing a case of Covid-19, thinking that it is something else, and as a result not isolating yourself and not seeking care early enough. This could lead to more cases and not so great outcomes for yourself.
Another concern is that the Shepherd’s pie combo of Covid-19 plus different respiratory illnesses could end up really overloading emergency rooms and clinics. This could lead to conditions where medical care is not as good as it could be, which it turn lead to more spread and worse outcomes.
Moreover, getting sick with one virus could make you more susceptible to getting Covid-19. That’s because other illnesses can occupy your immune system, allowing the SARS-CoV2 to more easily sneak in there and wreak havoc.
6. People getting lax on precautions.
You may have noticed that people aren’t being as careful these days as they were back in March and April. Look, for example, at a recent tweet from Ohio Governor Mike DeWine:
Indeed, many people have been behaving like long-time lovers who broke up with each but continue to communicate. The inevitable backslide can ensue. First, little missteps happen. “Oops, stood within one Denzel of someone else for just a moment. Won’t do that again.” Or “darn, forgot my face mask. Next time, I will have it.” Then, when nothing bad seemed to happen, further steps. “Maybe that face mask isn’t needed after all,” or “Perhaps, I can stand closer to that choir singing the song ‘WAP.’” Before you know it you are playing Twister while sharing noodles Lady and The Tramp style and don’t know how exactly you got to that point. Yep, that’s the respiratory virus version of full-on no-holds-barred sex.
Instead, with the changing seasons, now is the time to get more aggressive with precautions. For example, when Cologne, Germany, noticed an uptick in cases, they doubled down or verdoppelt on enforcing mask use and other measures:
7. Misinformation campaigns.
Surprise, surprise, there is misinformation about the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic out there. Yes, it is shocking. Not everything posted on Facebook or that you hear at the local bar is correct.
All of the misinformation that has been circulating has made containing the virus even more difficult to do. People may be less likely to take proper precautions when they are being told incorrectly that the virus is not that bad, is no worse than the flu, or will simply disappear. A lot of the misinformation has been, in the words of the Billie Eilish song, “!!!!!!!” Often stunningly far removed from reality and science.
The concern is that political and financial agendas are motivating the spread of this misinformation. If you claim that the virus is no big deal or was spread as a bioweapon, maybe businesses can just re-open without taking precautions or the national response so far doesn’t look quite as bad as a dumpster fire. With the U.S. elections approaching, take a wild guess as to whether circulating misinformation will be increasing or decreasing. If you answered “decreasing,” then where exactly are you getting your information?
8. Lack of a coordinated national plan.
On a grading scale of A+ to F, this federal government has often deserved a “W” as in “WTH is happening.” Or not happening. From claiming that the virus will magically go away to letting the states handle what is a national emergency to changing what the Centers of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is saying and doing to being the actual source of an outbreak, the Trump administration’s response to the pandemic has drawn rebuke even from the editors of major scientific journals. As I have reported for Forbes, editors of major scientific journals roundly and unanimously criticizing the President of the United States is truly unprecedented, which tells you that something has been kind of wrong with the response. The chaotic nature of the federal response has made Game of Thrones seem like a Matthew McConaughey rom-com by comparison. And it’s not been alright, alright, alright.
There’s still no indication that the federal government has a clear strategy on how to deal with a potential surge in cases this Fall or Winter. By contrast, countries like South Korea, Taiwan, New Zealand, and Australia have acted very quickly with clear science-backed strategies when much, much smaller SARS-CoV2 outbreaks occurred in their countries in the months since March.
It’s not completely clear when exactly the surge may occur. Will it come before November 3, which is National Sandwich Day? Gee, something else occurs that day as well. Recovering from National Deviled Egg Day, which occurs November 2? Celebrating Kendall Jenner’s birthday? Oh, that’s right, U.S. Election Day is on November 3. Will the results of Election Day help further drive the spread of the virus, whether its civil unrest, a further loosening of social distancing measures, and who knows what in this hot mess of a political environment? Will Thanksgiving bring more than turkey and then a week of turkey sandwiches, turkey stew, turkey surprise, turkey not-a-surprise, and turkey cake? Or will an upswing really happen later in December, January, or even February?
Predicting the future is as hard as, well, predicting the future. If you could have predicted the future, you would have bought up obscene amounts of toilet paper last December and set up a website called Iamsellingtoiletpaper.com. So, it’s not clear exactly when another surge will occur. Brace yourself, as this pandemic ride is far from over.