The coronavirus could linger in the U.S. for the next couple months and then resurface this fall, causing major disruptions for at least a year before a vaccine arrives, infectious disease experts told the Herald on Sunday as the U.S. surpassed 30,000 cases and 400 deaths.
The duration of the coronavirus outbreak in the U.S. is very hard to predict, the scientists agreed. Exactly how long it hangs around depends on the effectiveness of social distancing measures, if people comply with the orders, and whether warmer months slow the spread of the highly contagious disease, they said.
“Nobody knows the answer to that question, but I’m hoping the actions taken by the governor and the city of Boston will flatten the curve, blunt the peak of the epidemic and spread it out over more time,” said Davidson Hamer, a Boston University specialist in infectious diseases.
“Instead of peaking in three weeks, it could spread out over six to 10 weeks,” he said. “Then with increased social distancing and teleworking, this phase of the epidemic will hopefully die down with low transmission.”
But the highly contagious disease could resurface in the fall and winter before a vaccine is here, Hamer and other experts warned. The vaccine won’t be rolled out until the spring of 2021 at the earliest.
“We really need to keep our guard up,” Hamer said, noting the different social distancing measures that have kept people away from large groups.
As of Sunday, more than 330,000 people around the world have been infected with the coronavirus, and more than 14,000 people have died.
Weather is a big unknown. Summer in the Northern Hemisphere could diminish the spread of the coronavirus, which is what happened with the H1N1 flu pandemic in 2009, said Jeffrey Shaman, a public health expert at Columbia University.
“That petered out in late May, and roared back in an enormous wave in September, October, November,” he said. “This could follow that pattern, but we don’t know yet if this will keep going in the summer. We just don’t know.”
Social distance measures help reduce the pace of the spread and keep the number of hospitalizations at a manageable level, Shaman said. That saves peoples’ lives and buys researchers time to develop a vaccine and treatments, he added.