United States could face ‘substantial third wave’ of coronavirus cases, experts warn

A patient arrives at the emergency entrance to Maimonides Medical Center, as the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) continues, in the Borough Park neighborhood of Brooklyn, New York, United States, on the 14th October 2020.

Brendan McDermid | Reuters

Colder temperatures are arriving in the northern hemisphere and an insidious increase in new cases of coronavirus in the United States and Europe is underway.

For months, health officials have warned of the possibility, and as these trends begin to materialize, countries are debating whether to impose more stringent measures to contain the spread of the virus.

“We’re concerned to see a fall wave, to see a strong resurgence in the fall,” said Justin Lessler, associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. “And that’s really something that I think all of us in the public health community have been concerned about for some time.

In the United States, coronavirus cases were increasing 5% or more in 38 states, as of Friday, according to CNBC analysis of data compiled by Johns Hopkins University which uses a weekly average to smooth the reports. The country records an average of around 55,000 new cases of the coronavirus each day, an increase of more than 16% from a week ago.

“It is not yet too late to vigorously enforce good public health measures, and I stress this once again without necessarily closing the country,” White House coronavirus adviser Dr Anthony Fauci said Thursday, at Johns Hopkins University in a recorded question-and-answer session on Thursday.

Fauci, the country’s leading infectious disease expert, has warned that the daily number of new coronavirus cases in the United States remains dangerously high, especially as the upcoming flu season threatens to complicate the country’s response to the pandemic.

When the United States descended from its first peak in April, where cases were largely attributed to New York and other northeastern states, the number of new coronavirus cases “stuck” around 20 000 a day, Fauci said. Ideally, the United States would have reported fewer than 10,000 cases per day, he said.

Then cases resurfaced in the US Sun Belt over the summer as states attempted to reopen their economies. The number of new daily Covid-19 cases peaked at almost 70,000 cases per day before declining again. However, new cases have since fluctuated between 40,000 and 50,000 cases per day.

“You can’t go into the cool fall months and the cold winter months with a high community infection base,” Fauci said. He added that the positivity rate, or the percentage of positive tests, “is going in the wrong direction” in more than 30 states.

“I’m pretty grim at the moment because it seems like in the majority of states there are an increasing number of cases,” said Dr William Schaffner, epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University. “There is a growing sense of coronavirus fatigue out there. People really want to go back to the old normal.”

Schaffner said he expects the United States to experience a “substantial third wave” of infections and that this will be further complicated this winter by the spread of seasonal flu, which causes many symptoms similar to those of the coronavirus.

People will spend more time indoors and likely won’t follow public health guidelines as colder temperatures roll in, creating a higher risk of the coronavirus spreading compared to outdoor activities, said Schaffner.

“During the summer, people went indoors for air conditioning, but they spent more time outdoors. Nonetheless, this spread as people relaxed in their attention to social distancing and wearing a mask, ”he said. “As far as I know, it’s growing.”

Cases and hospitalizations soar in the great American plains

Unlike previous outbreaks in the United States, the coronavirus is now circulating widely in many more rural communities in America.

North Dakota, South Dakota, Montana and Wisconsin continue to report the highest number of cases per 100,000 people in the country, according to data from Johns Hopkins.

The epidemic has turned for the worse in some states. Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers has activated an alternative care facility that opened this week to patients with overwhelming coronavirus at Wisconsin State Fair Park.

In North Dakota, where cases are up nearly 34% from a week ago, local officials fear some hospitals may not have the staff to treat patients with severe coronavirus.

“We had a shortage of nurses before the pandemic, and so the extra workload and extra hospital capacity that comes with Covid impacted and affected staff,” said Renae Moch, director of public health at Bismarck -Burleigh.

Moch said that at times, some residents of more rural North Dakota have had to travel hours through state lines to Montana and South Dakota to seek treatment because hospital beds in Bismarck, the state capital, were full.

“For us, it’s the worst it has been,” Moch said. “I think especially with the flu season coming up and the possible impacts of that as we move into the fall … we need to take control of that before it gets worse, and I’m sure that it can get worse. “

Dr Allison Suttle, chief medical officer at Sanford Health, which has hospitals in North Dakota and South Dakota, said he has seen more Covid-19 patients and added beds to help treat people.

Because the current outbreak of coronavirus patients is occurring now compared to earlier in the country’s response to the pandemic, Sanford Health has had time to prepare and stock needed supplies, Suttle said, adding that she was convinced that she could treat patients seeking medical care.

However, residents of more rural states have delayed their routine health care visits to spring after they were told to stay home as the coronavirus swept the coastlines. Now, these people are arriving in hospitals in worse conditions amid the growing number of patients with Covid-19, Suttle said.

“What we are seeing as Covid hospitalizations are increasing in direct correlation with the number of increasing cases in our communities, we are also seeing sicker patients who delayed care in March and April and are now having problems,” he said. -she said. “They require more intense care, longer hospital stays, so all of the compounds.”

Covid-19 spreads in Europe, Canada

The United States is not the only country to report an increase in new cases.

When adjusting for the population, the number of new coronavirus infections in Europe has now exceeded the United States, with Europe reporting 187 new cases per million people, based on a seven-day average, compared to 162 new cases per million people in the United States. from Thursday.

Europe – which in CNBC’s analysis of the Hopkins data includes the 27 countries of the European Union plus the United Kingdom – reports on average around 97,000 new cases per day, up 44% from there has a week.

The World Health Organization warned on Friday that the epidemic in Europe was “worrying” as the number of intensive care unit beds in some areas was declining. Maria van Kerkhove, WHO technical officer, said the organization is aware of “a number of cities across Europe where the capacity of the ICU will be reached in the coming weeks”.

The resurgence of the virus prompted France to declare a state of public health emergency. The UK has placed tighter restrictions on assembly and domestic business activities in London, and has threatened to take more nationwide action if necessary. Germany has also imposed new measures to curb the spread of the virus.

Meanwhile, Canada is experiencing a second wave of coronavirus infections as the provinces of Quebec and Ontario report the bulk of the country’s Covid-19 death toll, regional director Carissa Etienne said on Wednesday. of the WHO for the Americas.

– CNBC Berkeley Lovelace Jr. contributed to this report.

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