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Are we STILL in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic?

coronavirus second wave
Photo via Phillip Pessar/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)
  • Technically speaking, the globe has not entered a second wave
  • Even countries like New Zealand are still to be considered in the first wave
  • The term “second wave” doesn’t have a hard scientific definition

many countries around the world that thought they had the coronavirus pandemic under control are seeing new surges of cases, experts say the world is not seeing a second wave of COVID-19. In the United States, new hotspots are not signifiers of a coronavirus second wave, either. 

Five months after the pandemic officially began, this is still only the first wave. 

“As we ease up on restrictions, there is always going to be a resurgence in cases,” Loren Lipworth, an epidemiologist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center, told the Washington Post. “It’s not that it’s a new wave of the virus.”

Although the term “second-wave” doesn’t have a hard and fast scientific definition, epidemiologist David Weber told the Post that in the past, it’d been used to describe a scenario that occurs after there are no more active cases of the virus. 

“If you got down to no cases, it would count potentially as a new wave,” Weber said.

Furthermore, the Guardian reported that experts say they view the pandemic numbers as a whole for the entire world—not by country. So although countries like New Zealand eradicated the virus—at least temporarily—because the cases continue to spike globally, experts say the virus never “disappeared” in the way it would need to for new cases to be defined as a second wave. 

There might not even be a true second wave, anyway. At the end of July, the World Health Organization warned that the coronavirus pandemic would be “one big wave” instead of seasonal waves, like many researchers initially thought, Yahoo! reported

“What we all need to get our heads around is this is a new virus and it is behaving, even though it is a respiratory virus, even though respiratory viruses in the past did tend to this different seasonal waves, this one is behaving differently,” WHO spokesperson Margaret Harris said during a press conference. 

Harris warned that people could not act like COVID-19 is less of an issue during warmer months, like the flu has been historically. 

“This virus likes all weathers, but what it particularly likes is jumping from one person to another when we come in close contact,” Harris said. “So let’s not give it that opportunity. The second wave idea, we are in the first wave. It’s going to be one big wave.”

At the beginning of July, the U.S.’s top infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci also said the country was still “knee-deep” in the first wave of the pandemic, according to CBS News. He echoed the idea that because the U.S. never saw cases fall back to zero, it can’t have entered a second wave. 

“It was a surge or a resurgence of infections superimposed upon a baseline,” Fauci said.

Keith Neal, emeritus professor in the epidemiology of infectious diseases at the University of Nottingham, told the Guardian that experts might not be able to define the second wave of the pandemic until after the entire pandemic ends. 

“It is defining when we have [a coronavirus second wave] that is the issue,” Neal said. “In the [1918] flu, it was quite apparent. But only after the event.”

Sources: Washington Post, Guardian, Yahoo, CBS News


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