fall and winter pandemic predictions

Since early in the pandemic, infectious-disease experts have predicted a “second wave” of infections and deaths. Based on the patterns of other viruses, they hypothesized that COVID-19 would surge once more around autumn and winter.

Viruses typically spread more easily in cooler, less humid weather, as it allows them to remain alive for a longer amount of time. Furthermore, as temperatures drop Americans will increasingly gather indoors, where the virus spreads more easily. Ellen Foxman, an immunologist at the Yale School of Medicine, said that seasonal viruses, such as those that cause influenza, and the coronaviruses that cause common colds are faithful to the calendar. Each year, they typically flare up a couple of weeks after children go back to school. But this virus is more contagious than the typical seasonal virus, as most people remain susceptible to contracting it.

The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington produced an influential model that sees a catastrophic winter, with at best 288,000 deaths and at worst, 620,000 deaths by January 1st. As of October 15th, the United States has seen 7.95 million cases and 217,000 deaths. Essentially, the IHME model is predicting that the number of deaths will double in the next three and a half months.

IHME director Dr. Christopher Murray told CNN, “When we look ahead into the winter with seasonality kicking in, people becoming clearly less vigilant, you know mask use is down, mobility is up in the nation, you put all those things together and we look like we’re going to have a very deadly December ahead of us in terms of toll of coronavirus.”

In It for the Long Haul

“It’s not going to be turning a switch off and turning the switch on. It’s going to be gradual and I think it’s going to take several months before we get to the point where we can really feel something that approximates how it was normally before COVID-19,” said Dr. Fauci.

Many see the vaccine as an instantaneous miracle cure, but it will take several months to get the country vaccinated. The number of doses available, how the vaccine will be distributed, the effectiveness and safety of the vaccine itself, among countless other obstacles stand in the way of herd immunity.

As vaccines and treatments remain under development, we remain in a position where the transmission of the virus depends on our individual behaviors. Forecasts, such as IMHE’s depend on how we act, whether or not we social distance or we wear masks. The onus is largely on us.