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European coronavirus rates are rising again; will the U.S. soon follow?

coronavirus in europe
Photo via KT/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

As predicted by multiple health experts, the fall season is ushering in a second wave of COVID-19 surges throughout Europe. As a result, Spain, France, the United Kingdom, and several other countries have started to impose new restrictions that could last through the winter. Now that rates of the coronavirus in Europe have begun increasing again, Americans worry the U.S. could follow suit. 

In mid-September, the World Health Organization warned that weekly coronavirus cases were rising in Europe at a higher rate than during the pandemic’s peak in March, according to NPR

According to data collected by the New York Times, Spain saw a 24% increase in cases during a two-week span in mid-September. France had also seen a 24% increase in cases. The U.K. had troublingly seen a 90% increase in COVID-19 cases. Overall, most European countries had experienced an uptick in cases in the same time frame. 

“More than half of European countries have reported a greater than 10% increase in cases in the past two weeks,” Dr. Hans Kluge, the regional director of the WHO in Europe, said during a recent press conference. “Of those, seven countries have seen newly reported cases increase more than twofold in the same period.”

Unlike the U.S., most European countries had managed to slow the spread of coronavirus over the summer. But as restrictions have lifted and young people have become more social, the virus has had a resurgence. 

Linda Bauld, a public health professor at the University of Edinburgh, told Al Jazeera that relaxed lockdown measures contributed to the spike.

“Because the virus was not eliminated from Europe—it was suppressed—when you release lockdown, the virus spreads,” Bauld said. “The message then from governments was: ‘Go out and access the economy, access hospitality, see your loved ones.'”

It is likely the U.S. is headed toward a surge in positive COVID-19 tests. Most lockdowns and restrictions were lifted in the U.S. long before European countries and have stayed lifted. Cases remained high throughout the summer of 2020 and now students have started to return to in-person learning. 

According to the Times, the U.S. is currently experiencing a 10% increase in cases nationwide. Southern states and the Midwest lead the surge in cases. North Dakota, South Dakota, Missouri, and Iowa have added more recent cases per capita than all other states, as of mid-September. 

On Sept. 5, experts told the Washington Post that a potential cold-weather surge of COVID-19 cases could emerge ahead of Election Day and peak well into winter. 

“My feeling is that there is a wave coming, and it’s not so much whether it’s coming but how big is it going to be,” Eili Klein, an epidemiologist at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, told the Post.

However, epidemiologists agree that the degree of how bad a second wave could be depends on the public’s vigilance in fighting the virus. 

“We are collectively in control of how many cases or deaths there are,” Marc Lipsitch, an epidemiologist at Harvard, told the Post. “Forecasts more than a month from now make sense only if they are conditional on how we behave.”

Health experts continue to stress that the best way to curb the spread of COVID-19 is by frequently and thoroughly washing your hands, wearing a mask in public, and maintaining at least six feet apart from others. 

Sources: NPR, Al Jazeera, New York Times, Washington Post


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