Experts No Longer Expect Coronavirus to Come in Waves: It's a 'Forest Fire'

August 6, 2020
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    A lot remains unknown about the coronavirus pandemic even several months into lockdown.

    Experts initially believed that the novel virus would act like the seasonal flu and die down in the summer before ramping back up in a severe second wave come fall.

    However, further studies have led epidemiologists to backtrack those warnings.

    "There's no evidence there's going to be a decrease in cases, a trough," epidemiologist Michael Osterholm told Business Insider.

    Instead of taming in the summer months, the virus has remained steady. "It's just going to keep burning hot, kind of like a forest fire looking for human wood to burn,” he said.

    Osterholm’s predictions in April were modeled using trajectories from the 1918 Spanish influenza and 2009 H1N1 flu pandemics, worthy models due to their similarities to COVID.

    "In April, we were still looking at whether this was a pandemic where we'd see true waves — where you see big increase in cases and then a trough and then a second, bigger wave for reasons completely beyond human behavior— which has historically happened with other influenza pandemics," Osterholm said.

    The second wave resurfacing in the cooler months was the likeliest scenario of the three, which included “peaks and valleys” and slow burn.”

    However, as we inch closer to the fall months, Osterhold siad “we see there are no waves” and none of the predicted scenarios played out.

    Instead, he sees that the pandemic is “one long-term fire” described as a “fast-burn scenario with peaks and valleys in different locations at different times."

    World Health Organization spokeswoman Margaret Harris echoed these sentiments stating that the pandemic has resulted in “one big wave.”

    While COVID may spread similarly to the flu via droplets emitted when coughing, sneezing or talking, it’s behavior patterns are not seasonal.

    "People are still thinking about seasons. What we all need to get our heads around is this is a new virus," Harris said via Reuters.

    "Even though it's a respiratory virus, and even though respiratory viruses in the past did tend to do this, you know, different seasonal waves, this one is behaving differently," she added.

    Rachel Baker, a researcher at the Princeton Environmental Institute said that there’s a chance COVID-19 may settle into a “classic seasonal pattern,” but it requires the population to develop immunity, which would take up to two to three years and a vaccine that's developed and distributed to the masses.

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