Some states in the U.S. and countries around the world are slowly starting to reopen, but that doesn’t mean coronavirus is about to become something of the past. In fact, the pandemic is likely to continue hanging over the planet for at least two years, according to one recent report.
Should COVID-19 follow the pattern seen with the 1918 Spanish flu, we could well see the pandemic come back even stronger this fall and winter in a second wave that hits far harder than the first one did. This is according a report from the University of Minnesota’s Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. The team behind the report includes medical directors and pandemic experts.
The paper lays out three scenarios, with the worst one seeing a major resurgence of the deadly disease by the end of the year. In a second potential scenario, this year’s outbreak would be followed up by several smaller waves moving into next year, while a third scenario would see viral transmission in a “slow burn” without a distinctive pattern.
The researchers looked at eight major influenza pandemics around the world going back to the 1700s, along with information about the novel coronavirus, to make their predictions on how COVID-19 could spread in the future.
The report warns that there’s no way to predict what will happen, just as no one really could have predicted just how bad the current outbreak would get.
One thing that they feel more comfortable predicting, however, is that there won’t be a vaccine until at least next year. They point out that up to a quarter of people infected with the disease don’t have symptoms and that other people can spread the disease for several days before they start to feel sick, which is why historical flu pandemics seem like the best model of what could happen.
They say that given the ease of transmission and the fact that humans don’t possess natural immunity to it, as much as 70 percent of the population might need to develop immunity before we can expect the disease’s spread to slow on its own. In that case, the pandemic could last from 18 to 24 months, after which time it will remain endemic.
Unfortunately, we can’t forget what happened with the Spanish flu a century ago. After a small wave in early 1918, a huge spike came that fall that was followed by a third major wave early the next year. This, they say, would be a worst-case scenario. Studies indicate that social distancing at the time worked against that outbreak and that those cities that lifted the measures earlier, such as Denver, saw huge second spikes.
Harvard School of Public Health Epidemiologist Marc Lipsitch, one of the study’s authors and a pandemic expert, told CNN that he was surprised that states are already lifting restrictions that were put in place to control the virus’s spread.
He stated: “I think it’s an experiment. It’s an experiment that likely will cost lives, especially in places that do it without careful controls to try to figure out when to try to slow things down again.”
And while they say that a vaccine may help, it won’t be a viable solution in the short term as it likely wouldn’t be ready until next year at the earliest.
Of course, there are no guarantees that any vaccine would be safe or effective, and if it turns out to be anything like the flu vaccine, it may even do more harm than good.
Unfortunately, there is no quick solution to this pandemic, so the best we can do is try to stay healthy and practice social distancing until a safe and effective treatment is found.
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