Mark Felix / AFP by Getty Images
Coronavirus cases are on the rise in many states as the US heads into the winter months. And forecasters predict a surprising increase in infections and deaths if current trends continue.
This is exactly the kind of scenario that public health experts have long warned could save for the country, if it did not aggressively remove summer infections.
“We expect the cases to be filed in preparation for a bad winter,” said Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University. “We really did the opposite.”
After being right all season in July, cases have fallen sharply, but the US has never reached the level where the public health system can really get a handle on the outbreak.
Now the infections are rising again.
The US averages more than 52,000 new cases a day (the highest since mid-August), driven by balloon ballots across the country, especially in the Midwest, the Great Plains at the West
Contributing to this increase are the return of students to campus, resistance to social distance commands and wearing masks, and more people spending time in restaurants and other indoor settings, he said. by Smith.
Dr. Michael Mina, a professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health, compared the situation to growing forest fires with small sparks across the US that will only gain strength as the weather cools.
“We will probably see a huge explosion of cases and explosions that potentially do what we have seen so far that does not seem to be that much,” Mina said.
Nearly 400,000 deaths in February?
An estimate from one of the leading coronavirus modeling groups in the country projecting more than 170,000 people could die from COVID-19 between now and Feb. 1, bringing the total number of pandemic deaths to nearly 390,000.
“Unfortunately, in the United States, this is still the first wave of outbreaks,” said Ali Mokdad, professor of health sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, who developed the model.
The model evaluates three different scenarios to show the potential impact of people’s policies and behaviors on outcomes. The worst assumption is that social mandates in the distance are constantly being revived – and projects cost nearly 483,000 deaths in February. 1. The most difficult scenario assumes the communities to restore such mandates when death reaches a certain level per capita and almost everyone wears a mask. In that case, the total death toll could still be around 315,000.
The US currently averages more than 700 deaths a day. IHME projects could rise to more than 2,000 a day in mid-January, rivaling the deadliest day in spring.
So far, Mokdad says the data clearly shows that the US is stuck in a reactive cycle: when cases rise in their community, people change their behavior significantly – they stay more at home and wearing masks, even in places where it is not necessary.
When the situation improves, people return to their former behavior.
“We’re like a roller coaster at every location in the United States,” Mokdad said. “We dropped the cases, then we reduced our guard. But it’s a deadly virus – you can’t give it a chance to move around.”
And cold weather can do. In the southern hemisphere, countries have seen an increase in cases in recent cold months, even though many distances in society and many people are wearing masks, Mokdad said, stating that “there is a seasonality factor” with COVID -19 mimicking pneumonia.
High levels of circulating virus
Even areas that have recovered from devastating eruptions remain vulnerable to winter resurgence, says Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor at the University of Texas, Austin who manages the University of Texas COVID-19 Modeling Consortium.
Meyers said that even in Texas – a state where summer has helped push the combined death toll to more than 17,000 – the virus is more prevalent than in the spring. This is true in many parts of the country.
“Even though things seem kind of flat from the point of view of which way is going on trends, the level at which we are flat is still a horrible many viruses that are spreading in our communities,” he said. although the hope is that communities may now be more responsive to caution if cases escalate.
His team model is currently releasing a combined 234,684 deaths on November 9, but no longer looking ahead.
“We understand very well about how this virus spreads,” Meyers said. “What we don’t know is what the behavior will be and what decisions people will make in the coming months.”
That projection is similar to what researchers at the University of Massachusetts, Amherst predict at COVID-19 ForecastHub, an “ensemble model” that combines 30 different COVID models.
It predicts about 234,633 total deaths as of November 7.
“There is a kind of opposing force at work in what we see,” said University of Massachusetts professor Amherst professor Nicholas Reich, whose lab operates the ensemble model.
“On the one hand, we know that people will spend more time internally and have the potential to increase delivery,” he said. “On the flip side, people are generally more cautious.”
But the Reich said there were too many uncertainties to bet over a month: “In my mind, that is the kind of boundary of reliable predictability, “he said.
While the U.S. outbreak could be described as having different “waves” – one in the spring, another in the summer – public health experts say they did not fully understand how the pandemic was washed. unequally across the country throughout the year.
“A better way of thinking about it is a wave that goes into a pool and in that pool it slides,” Drs. Roger Shapiro, a professor at the Harvard TH Chan School of Public Health. “Wherever it has not gone, it will go, and the place where it is located may return.”
Estimates vary, but the majority of the U.S. population is not infected, which means most communities are still at risk of major outbreaks, he said.
Strict adherence to mask wearing and reduction to indoor gatherings can help prevent the worst COVID-19 winter situations. But it is not certain that community leaders have the political will to impose such restrictions.
Mina said she expects states to continue to open up as the virus transmissibility increases and more people spend time inside, creating “a perfect storm.”
“Will we close again completely?” Mina asked. “Or will we choose to pick a lot of infections? If that is the case, we still have not done a very good job of knowing how to keep vulnerable people safe.”
But COVID-19 modeler Nicholas Reich recorded horrible predictions that was all – our best guess. He said winter could look very different if Americans take serious precautions.
“The optimism we can take from it is that human behavior can change it,” he said. “We can bend and flatten the curve.”