Things have been looking up recently when it comes to the Covid-19 coronavirus. But not in a good way.
After the number of new reported Covid-19 cases each day steadily dropping from late September through much of October, this number now seems to be back on the rise. As the following tweet from the Centers for Disease Prevention and Control (CDC) indicated, “as of November 18, the 7-day average of daily new cases was 88,482, a 16.1% increase from the previous week”:
This uptick raises concerns that another Winter Covid-19 coronavirus surge is on the way. Such a surge wouldn’t be too surprising. In October 2020, I covered for Forbes why transmission of the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) was likely to increase as the weather got colder and drier. Such conditions could potentially help the virus survive longer, affect the size and composition of virus-carrying respiratory droplets, and hamper your respiratory tract’s defenses. Winter conditions will also move more activities indoors where it may be harder to social distance and maintain good air circulation and ventilation. Moreover, even though travel was more restricted than normal last November and December, some Holiday travel and gatherings did take place. All of these factors made an upswing near the end of 2020 quite likely. And lo and behold the ensuing Winter months from November 2020 through January 2021 did indeed have a Covid-19 coronavirus surge.
Now, fast forward to now and you’ve got a lot of the similar circumstances. Conditions seem ripe for a sequel to last Winter’s surge. In fact, the recent uptick suggests that the surge could already be happening. The main question then might be whether this Winter’s sequel will be like the movie Deuce Bigalow: European Gigolo to last Winter’s Deuce Bigalow: Male Gigolo, just as bad as the prior installment. Or whether the surge this Winter will not be as severe.
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Well, here are several things working against us, assuming that you are on the side of humans and not the virus:
- People are no longer social distancing and wearing face masks as diligently: As I covered back in May for Forbes, premature relaxation occurred in the U.S. then. The CDC came out with new guidelines that vaccinated individuals could forego wearing face masks and social distancing while indoors. Of course, being fully vaccinated is not like wearing a hoodie under a blazer. You can’t tell whether someone’s been vaccinated simply by looking at him or her. Without a reliable vaccination status checking system in place, many people in general stopped wearing face masks and social distancing. The honor system did not work because, news flash, people lie. This premature relaxation probably contributed surge seen in July through September. The premature relaxation also let the cat out of the bag, the horse out of the barn, and the Timberlake out of the *NSYNC, so to speak. Since then, it’s been difficult to get people to wear face masks and social distance again.
- Travel restrictions have been lifted: While travel restrictions led to lighter Holiday travel last year, this year the flood gates may be much more open. The question is how many people will be bringing more than just good cheer along with them?
- Mass gatherings are occurring: Unlike last year, you now have football games and other events with packed stadiums and venues on a regular basis.
- The Delta variant of the Covid-19 coronavirus is more transmissible: In case you didn’t hear, there’s a new variant in town this time, and it’s more contagious.
- Not enough people have gotten fully vaccinated against Covid-19: Most of the U.S. hasn’t yet reached herd immunity thresholds. In other words, vaccination coverage in the U.S. is not yet high enough to really break the transmission of the virus. So far, only 59.1% of the total population, 62.8% of those five years and older, and 69.1% of those 12 years and older have been fully vaccinated, according to the CDC Covid Data Tracker.
Eric Topol, MD, founder and director of the Scripps Research Translational Institute, warned about this last issue with the following tweet:
As you can see, Topol is calling this a possible fifth major wave based on the curves of Covid-19 cases and deaths from the Financial Times that he included with his tweet. Both of these curves the recent uptick that seems to forming a devious smile with the late Summer and Fall Delta variant surge.
On the flip side, here’s what’s currently working in our favor:
- Many more people are vaccinated: Yes, vaccination coverage levels currently are not high enough to really dampen the spread of the SARS-CoV-2. However, they are higher than what they were last November, which was essentially 0%. That’s because the Covid-19 vaccines didn’t receive emergency use authorizations (EUAs) until December 2020. Even after the first two mRNA vaccines became available, it took a while to get folks vaccinated. That’s because the Covid-19 vaccination program came out of the gate like a giraffe wearing stiletto heels. Early on, the program experienced numerous snafus and delays, as I described for Forbes back then. So while 59.1% may not be fabulous and less than some other countries, it is still better than 0%. Such a vaccination coverage will probably help slow the spread of the virus to some degree and as importantly reduce the number of people suffering more severe Covid-19 outcomes this time around.
- More people have already been exposed to the virus: Respiratory virus pandemics don’t tend to last forever because at some point the virus runs out of fully susceptible people to infect. Since early 2020, many experts have been predicting that the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic will run its course in the U.S. by sometime in 2022. That would be similar to the course of the 1918 influenza pandemic, which began with an initial “herald” wave in the Spring 0f 1918, went through two Winter surges, and then finally trailed off in the Spring of 1920. There’s a good chance that herd immunity thresholds will be reached in 2022 through a combination of vaccination and exposure to the virus. Of course, neither natural immunity nor vaccination are perfect. They aren’t like concrete full-body condoms. Breakthrough infections will likely continue to happen. And it’s not clear what percentage of those infected with the virus end up developing persistent immunity and how long this immunity may last.
So this Winter’s surge may not be as severe as last Winter’s surge, at least in terms of hospitalizations and deaths. But it’s difficult to tell for sure. Regardless, stay vigilant and cautious over the next few months. Don’t commit to mass gatherings or travel if you can. Keep your plans flexible in case a big surge occurs. Whenever possible, maintain social distancing such as remaining at least six feet or one Denzel apart from others (because Denzel Washington is about six feet tall). Wear face masks around other folks in public. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly, lathering up with soap for at 20 seconds, which is long enough to get through the first chorus of the DiVinyls song, “I Touch Myself.”
Sure, you may be getting tired of such Covid-19 precautions. But the Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic will not last forever. You’ve already gotten this far. In the words of Wilson Phillips, “hold on” for just a little while. The Winter weather conditions are ripe for another surge. So why not weather this potential “storm” for another few months?