Is the U.S. in a third wave of coronavirus?

third wave coronavirus
Photo via Baker County Tourism Travel/Flickr (CC BY ND 2.0)

Some troubling COVID-19 statistics from late October indicate the United States could be headed for trouble—and might already be in the third wave of coronavirus.

Time reported that the U.S. reached a new record high level of infections on Oct. 24, with 23.0 infections per 100,000 people. That surpassed the previous high-mark of 20.5 on July 19, in the midst of what is now being regarded by many public health officials as the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.

The same report noted that the U.S. broke a single-day record on Oct. 23 with 83,757 new cases. That was, in fact, the second day in a row the nation broke a record; Oct. 22’s case numbers surpassed the previous high from July 29, according to NBC News.

Just a cursory look at a daily case chart is enough to illustrate how we could be entering—or already in—the third wave of coronavirus. There’s a sharp rise in the number of cases starting in March and peaking April 7, a second rise after a slight dropoff that peaked on July 19, and another sharp rise throughout October. It’s particularly concerning with the onset of winter.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, noted to NBC News that no matter how one looks at the chart, it doesn’t bode well.

“I look at it more as an elongated exacerbation of the original first wave,” he said. “It’s kind of semantics. You want to call it the third wave or an extended first wave, no matter how you look at it, it’s not good news.”

“Each wave we start from a higher baseline and we start climbing,” observed Dr. Ashish Jha, dean of the Brown University School of Public Health. Jha contrasted the summer peak, which was more concentrated in Sun Belt states across the South and Southwest, with the most recent rise in cases. “This time,” he said, “it’s all around the country and we’re heading into winter, where the virus becomes more efficient in spreading.”

William Hanage, associate professor of epidemiology at Harvard, used a “wildfire” metaphor to describe where the nation is currently. “It’s indisputable that the U.S. is now seeing a pretty widespread transmission across the board,” he said. He also pointed out, to extend the metaphor, that portions of the wildfire may be more intense and demand more attention, with other “patches” of fire developing where public health strategies might be more relaxed.

Sources: Time, NBC News [1] [2]

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