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The Southern and Midwestern United States may soon see a rise in COVID-19 cases. Getty Images
  • Modeling by PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia (CHOP) shows early signs that new clusters of COVID-19 may soon flare across the Southern and Midwestern United States.
  • The model suggests much of the country may avoid a second spike in cases if they follow social or physical distancing guidelines, as the nation reopens for business.
  • But even without a second wave of COVID-19, we’re likely to see consequences from the pandemic for months and years to come.

It could begin anywhere. As restrictions are eased nationwide, any stray cough or sneeze could potentially start a new wave of COVID-19.

New modeling by PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia shows early signs that new clusters of COVID-19 may soon flare across the Southern and Midwestern United States.

Researchers built their model using data from a variety of publicly available sources to observe how factors like social or physical distancing, population density, daily temperatures, and humidity affect the number and spread of COVID-19 cases over time across a county.

“I’m encouraged to see that our models have been accurate — that as we predicted, many communities, including large cities, may be ready to reopen if they take a cautious and slow approach,” said Dr. David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at CHOP in a statement.

The model, which was recently updated with new data, suggests much of the country may avoid a second spike in cases, if they’re careful to follow physical distancing guidelines, as the nation reopens for business.

“A second wave means that as the incidence of new cases is declining, all of a sudden we start to see the curve going up again,” Peter Gulick, DO, an associate professor of medicine and an infectious disease expert at Michigan State University in East Lansing, Michigan, told Healthline.

Gulick explained that this might occur because of more people being tested, as well as new cases being identified. He added that, if not controlled, a second wave could bring severe consequences.

Additionally, in some states, cases are still rising, meaning they’re not through the first wave or peak of disease.

“A second wave may be serious if we cannot get it under control, since all we have to treat the virus with is prevention plus testing, identifying cases, isolating the cases, and doing contact tracing and testing,” said Gulick. “We know it can also cause cardiac, renal, and neurological issues, all leading to more deaths.”

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), said, “It’s inevitable that we’ll have a return of the virus,” in a recent Bloomberg interview. He emphasized that “when it does, how we handle it will determine our fate.”

But SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, doesn’t present the same risk to everybody, and experts say those most vulnerable will need to be especially cautious as eased restrictions increase the risk of new infections.

“Flu shots, handwashing, and social distancing will be imperative, especially for those at highest risk for both influenza and COVID-19 complications: older adults and those with chronic disease,” said Dr. Lisa Doggett, a faculty member in the department of population health at the University of Texas at Austin Dell Medical School, senior medical director for HGS AxisPoint Health, and author.

Doggett believes that a resurgence of COVID-19 after an “apparent lull” could prove devastating for our country, but that even without a second wave, we’re likely to see “consequences from the pandemic for months and years to come.”

She said those consequences might include “an increase in people suffering from mental health conditions and substance abuse.”

In a paper published by the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), experts say the virus will continue to be a threat until 60 to 70 percent of the population has contracted it.

“Unfortunately, there is no vaccine and we aren’t at levels of exposure that would lend itself to herd immunity,” said Dr. Brad Younggren, chief medical officer of 98point6, a provider of on-demand, text-based primary care.

Younggren cautions that “there are many people who still run the risk of getting very sick or worse,” and that it’s important that everyone take all of the proper precautions to protect themselves.”

He pointed out that, while the antiviral drug remdesivir was recently approved by the Food and Drug Administration (FDA), this doesn’t mean that increased “morbidity and mortality related to COVID” isn’t likely to continue. Early studies of remdesivir have found it only provides a moderate benefit to patients with COVID-19, and more research is needed to verify these results.

According to Younggren, as we move into different stages of “opening back up,” it is critical to have pervasive testing and contact tracing support “in order to mirror the successes we have seen in other countries that have been successful at keeping overall numbers down.”

He emphasized that a major component of this is having sufficient personal protective equipment available and “maintaining distancing standards for the community, and for healthcare workers.”

“Right now, in the absence of a cure or a vaccination, it is up to us to control the spread and effectively reduce the impact or prevent a second wave,” said Ruth McDermott-Levy, PhD, MPH, associate professor and director of the Center for Global & Public Health at Villanova University in Pennsylvania.

McDermott-Levy explained that controlling time (how long you’re around others) and distance (how far you stay from others) are important to reduce the risk of infection.

According to McDermott-Levy, mask use and following physical distancing guidelines can help greatly. “We need to reduce the risk of droplet exposure by social distancing and wearing a mask,” she said.

“As people start to return to work, there will need to be measures in place to keep people apart, such as continuing to meet via electronic technology,” she added. “When the situation arises when there are more people in a room, which should be avoided if possible, the quality of the mask needs to move from a cloth mask to a surgical mask (which offers more protection).”

Modeling finds that new clusters of COVID-19 could appear in different parts of the country as lockdown restrictions are eased. However, researchers believe that this risk can be reduced by continuing to follow physical distancing guidelines and using face masks.

Experts say a resurgence of COVID-19 after an “apparent lull” could have a devastating effect on the United States, but even without a second wave of COVID-19, we’re likely to see consequences from the pandemic for months and years to come.

Experts also say that without a cure or vaccine, it’s up to us to prevent the spread of the coronavirus by following physical distancing guidelines and controlling how close, and how long, we remain around others.

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