Second virus wave? Experts unsure about possibilities

DOVER — A second wave of COVID-19?

The ongoing deadly blast must first pass.

When cases drop significantly, there’s still no telling how many will remain vulnerable. Simply put, it’s complicated.

“If our social distancing has been highly effective, then we may have a population of people who remain susceptible to infection,” University of Delaware Epidemiology Program founding director and Professor Jennifer Horney said last week.

One model indicates that Delaware’s coronavirus peak has passed, and the outbreak should be largely complete by mid-May.

That’s from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

State officials, however, pointed to a Federal Emergency Management Agency model on Friday that forecasts a dramatic increase coming within days.

So how resilient is society to a followup surge after the eventual dropoff? That, too, is uncertain, Ms. Horney said.

“There are many things that we do not know about COVID-19 as it relates to the durability of immunity — in other words, how long any type of immune protection may last after being infected with COVID,” she said.

“What we do know is that there appear to be potentially large numbers of people who have been infected with COVID-19 but were asymptomatic, so the pool of people who have some level of protection from future infection could potentially be quite large.”

So while effective social distancing may lessen the danger for now, “we may then have a population of people who remain susceptible to infection,” Ms. Horney said.

“We also don’t yet have much data about the potential for prior infection to provide any protection against subsequent infection.”

Health experts and members of the White House coronavirus task force have warned of a possible comeback for the virus next fall.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said last week: “We will have coronavirus in the fall. I am convinced of that.”

He stressed that in the fall, according to Associated Press reports that the nation would be better prepared to manage it. “Whether or not it’s going to be big or small is going to depend on our response,” Dr. Fauci said.

According to Delaware State University’s Dr. Donna Patterson, who studies global health and epidemics and is chair of the Department of History, Political Science and Philosophy, “We’re learning as we’re living through this.”

Dr. Donna Patterson

Dr. Patterson demurred from any predictions on a possible resurgence, saying “A second wave is possible at this point but we have to get through the first one.

“The numbers in the United States have spread so widely that the virus isn’t going to magically disappear.”

Then there’s the worry of a coronavirus resurgence as influenza season makes its annual appearance.

“Influenza associated hospitalizations impose heavy burdens on health systems annually,” Ms. Horney said.

“The difference is that we have a relatively effective vaccine for seasonal influenza that can mitigate these impacts to some extent, depending on the match of the vaccine with the circulating strain and the proportion of the population, particularly among vulnerable groups like the elderly, that are vaccinated.”

The best-case scenario for Ms. Horney would include continued expansion of available diagnostic testing “and at the same time, build public health capacity for contact tracing and hospital capacity for response while we see the number of cases going down for the next few weeks.”

If states opt to rapidly relax social distancing without the tests, tracing and hospital space, there could be “outbreaks starting to occur across the U.S. in areas that may not be prepared to respond.”

Knocking out the coronavirus completely is “unlikely,” Ms. Horney said, “but it still may not be a major burden in the future.”

Ms. Horney noted that the 2005 avian flu had little person to person contact and the H1N1 strain in 2009 was “relatively mild.”

COVID-19 has a lethal combination of characteristics.

“This pandemic has given us the worst of both — efficient person to person transmission of a very serious virus,” she said.

An attempt to reach the Delaware Division of Public Health this week for comment on a second wave of COVID-19 was unsuccessful.

Helpful Coronavirus links

Delaware Division of Health Coronavirus Page
CDC: About the Coronavirus Disease 2019
CDC: What to do if You Are Sick
Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center
AP News Coronavirus Coverage
Reopening Delaware: Resources for Businesses
Delaware Phase 2 guidance

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