The US could see an explosion of Covid-19 cases as fall and winter set in, one expert says, joining a chorus of health officials who have warned about the challenges of the coming months.
Two things will likely help drive that expected winter surge, according to Dr. Chris Murray, director of the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME).
“First, as case counts have come down in some states, we tend to see that people become less careful, they tend to have more contact,” he said. “But then the most important effect is the seasonality of the virus, that people go indoors, transmission happens more.”
According to the IHME model, the country is seeing about 765 daily deaths from Covid-19, but that number could jump to 3,000 daily deaths by late December.
More than 203,000 Americans have already died from the virus since the start of the pandemic and more than 7 million have been infected, according to Johns Hopkins University. At least 24 states are now reporting a rise in new cases compared to the previous week, mostly across the US heartland and Midwest, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
Murray’s warning is one that’s been repeated from several other health officials in recent months. Over the summer, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director warned the fall and winter could be “one of the most difficult times that we experienced in American public health.” And this week, leading infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci urged American cities and counties to prepare for “the challenge” of fall and winter.
It’ll be especially challenging moving into the new season, Fauci said, with a daily average of more than 40,000 cases nationwide.
“You don’t want to enter into the fall and winter with a community spread at that level, because if you do, you got a difficult situation that’s going to be really challenging,” Fauci told JAMA Editor in Chief Dr. Howard Bauchner.
Murray says the IHME model shows a “huge surge” expected to take off in October “and accelerate in November and December.”
“There’s a real risk that winter surge has already started in Europe,” Murray said. “Cases are exploding there. So we know it’s coming and we expect it to hit the US pretty soon.”
Florida clears bars and restaurants to fully reopen
Meanwhile, Gov. Ron DeSantis on Friday announced Florida moved into the third phase of reopening, removing state restrictions on bars and restaurants.
Restaurants can’t be limited by local governments to operate at less than 50% of their indoor capacity, according to the governor’s order. If local governments opt to restrict restaurants to less than 100% of their capacity, they have to provide “the justification and they’ve got to identify what the costs are involved with doing that are,” the governor said.
Health officials have previously said bars and similar indoor spaces — often crowding people in close quarters — are breeding grounds for the virus. While a vaccine timeline remains unknown, experts say public health measures like social distancing and masks remain the most powerful tools against the pandemic.
In “an act of executive grace” DeSantis said he’s also suspending “all outstanding fines and penalties that have been applied against individuals” associated with pandemic-related mandates, such as mask requirements.”
“All these fines we’re going to hold in abeyance and hope that we can move forward in a way that’s more collaborative,” he said.
Fauci: Covid-19 vaccinations could start in November
Fauci says Covid-19 vaccinations could “very likely” start in November or December. But it could still be a while until the US is back to normal.
“By the time you get enough people vaccinated….so that you can start thinking about maybe getting a little bit more towards normality, that very likely, as I and others have said, will be maybe the third quarter or so of 2021,” he told Bauchner. “Maybe even into the fourth quarter.”
In the meantime, Fauci and other leading experts have urged residents to continue heeding safety guidelines and wearing masks, keeping a distance, avoid crowded places and washing their hands.
The measures could be life-saving.
CDC Director Dr. Robert Redfield said this week preliminary results of the first round of a study show more than 90% of the US population remains susceptible to Covid-19. And a study published Friday in The Lancet found as of July, fewer than 10% of people in the US had antibodies to the virus.
“This research clearly confirms that despite high rates of COVID-19 in the United States, the number of people with antibodies is still low and we haven’t come close to achieving herd immunity,” one of the study authors, Dr. Julie Parsonnet, a professor of medicine at Stanford University, said in a statement.
“Until an effective vaccine is approved, we need to make sure our more vulnerable populations are reached with prevention measures.”