Within four months, the global number of confirmed COVID-19 cases has reached more than three million. This figure was a lot more compared to only 75,000 cases on Feb.20 and more than 153,000 on March 15. It only shows how the out-of-control virus has spread, especially in the hardest-hit communities.
Hospitals in the US and Spain, two of the countries with the highest number of coronavirus cases, are already filled to capacity. This has forced emergency rooms to close their doors to new patients, hire hundreds of new doctors, and request emergency supplies of basic medical equipment from abroad. Coronavirus cases in the US and Spain have reached 1,007,514 and 229,422, respectively.
With the continuous spread of the virus, many countries have been forced to implement lockdowns, strict regulations regarding going out of the house, and social distancing measures to “flatten the curve.” According to Live Science, a science news website that features groundbreaking developments in science, space, technology, health, the environment, our culture, and history, "flattening the curve" means slowing a virus' spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time. Health officials hope that as the curve flattens, it would mean a less stressed health care system.
History shows that flattening the curve has worked. A great example of this was the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic. While experts have already warned the city officials of Philadelphia that the flu was already spreading in the community, they still decided to pursue the parade. Eventually, thousands of people in the city were infected. Meanwhile, city officials in St. Louis quickly implemented social isolation strategies. As a result, the city saw just 2,000 deaths — one-eighth of the casualties in Philadelphia.
But even before we could flatten the curve, experts fear that some countries could face possible second wave coronavirus infections.
Will There Be a Second Wave of Coronavirus?
Many governments are doing everything they can to contain the virus, from launching mass testings to extensive tracings. However, experts claim that the world hasn’t yet reached the peak in terms of spread. Thus, there may likely be a second wave of viral infection that will continue the turmoil. This is possible as a second wave of disease outbreak occurred with the 1918 influenza pandemic, killing more than 50 million people in total.
According to Health.com, an online site that delivers accurate, trusted, up-to-date health and medical information for consumers, the pandemic experienced three waves, where the second wave was deadlier than the first. The next flu pandemics after it also had multiple waves. The 2009 H1N1 influenza, for instance, which started in April of that year had a second wave in the fall. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control, had also warned a second wave of coronavirus infections. “There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through. And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean,” he said.
Many experts have agreed with Dr. Redfield that a second wave of the coronavirus is inevitable. “This is an efficiently spreading human virus and it will not disappear without a vaccine,” infectious disease expert Amesh A. Adalja, MD, said. As long as there’s an absence of proper control measures and a vaccine, an outbreak will grow. For years, several epidemiological modeling studies and pandemic preparation have studied why and how multiple-wave outbreaks occur as well as how subsequent waves of infection can be prevented.
According to The Guardian, a British daily newspaper, these studies showed that while second waves and secondary peaks within the period of a pandemic are technically different, they all have one thing in common: the disease coming back in force. Signs of the second wave are already seen in some countries. Singapore, for instance, experienced a sudden resurgence in infections despite being lauded for its early handling of the outbreak. The disease reemerged in a crowded dormitory used by thousands of foreign workers with inadequate hygiene facilities and shared canteens.
Singapore’s experience has shown the world the ability of the disease to come back strongly in places where people are in close proximity. Experts said that populations across the world remain highly vulnerable to both resurgence and subsequent waves. Justin Lessler, an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins University, said that epidemics are like fires that could rage uncontrollably when there’s enough fuel.
“Epidemiologists call this intensity the ‘force of infection’, and the fuel that drives it is the population’s susceptibility to the pathogen. As repeated waves of the epidemic reduce susceptibility (whether through complete or partial immunity), they also reduce the force of infection, lowering the risk of illness even among those with no immunity,” Lessler said.
Preventing the Second Wave
According to The Conversation, a network of not-for-profit media outlets that publish news stories written by academics and researchers, a globally coordinated response could prevent a second wave. This was already achieved for SARS in 2013. It will require mass testings and ongoing surveillance to detect and isolate any new cases that could potentially result in a second wave. The development of the vaccine that could help achieve herd immunity without extensive infection will also greatly help.
Governments across the world should also be careful in easing governmental restrictions and protection measures without a widely available testing and therapeutic solution because it can quickly result for a second or even multiple future deadly waves. “Only then do we have a shot at isolating cases and employing the best protective measures to see a decrease. This will allow us to potentially loosen up state restrictions,” public health expert Carol A. Winner, MPH, said.
Urvish Patel, MD, MPH, a public health professional in the neurology department at Mount Sinai Hospital, also said that “prevention and precaution” is always the best approach in addressing a pandemic. “Countries can’t be kept on lockdown for prolonged periods of time due to economic burden and also the psychological impact of staying at home, but residents need to strictly follow social distancing until herd immunity from COVID-19 via mass immunization is achieved,” Dr. Patel said.