On Tuesday, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Robert Redfield, said that a second wave of the COVID-19 coronavirus could be far more severe and damaging. According to AP’s White House reporter Zeke Miller, Redfield later clarified that he didn’t say the second wave would be worse than the first, just that it would be more difficult to manage.
In an interview with The Washington Post, Redfield said the second wave is expected to occur next winter and will be more devastating since it will most likely be at the same time as the start of the flu season. He said:
There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through. And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean. We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.
So is this second wave of coronavirus likely to happen? And if so, when will it start?
The Flu Season Starts in the Fall & Lasts Through the Winter, Peaking Between December & February
According to the CDC’s website, the most common time for flu viruses is the fall and winter, although there are seasonal viruses year-round. Usually, flu season starts in October and peaks between December and February. A CDC study found that on average, about 8% of Americans get sick with the flu every season, with that number ranging from 3% to 11% depending on the year. This estimate is based only on the proportion of people who have symptoms.
In the Washington Post interview, Redfield said U.S. officials should work hard during the summer months to convince Americans to get the flu shot because it will minimize the number of hospitalizations from the flu. He added that getting a flu vaccine “may allow there to be a hospital bed available for your mother or grandmother that may get coronavirus.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, also said he believed the U.S. could see a second wave of cases during a press conference in March. He said the COVID-19 coronavirus “very well might” be a seasonal virus because they’re starting to see that in the southern hemisphere countries, cases are appearing as they enter their winter season. He said, “We really need to be prepared for another cycle.”
The Combination of Two Respiratory Outbreaks Will Put Immense Strain on the Country’s Healthcare System
The COVID-19 outbreak has already put immense strain on the healthcare system in the United States. There have been shortages of protective equipment for healthcare workers, ventilator shortages and a lack of testing kits. If the second wave of coronavirus does hit during the flu season, the U.S. healthcare system may struggle even more with the two outbreaks at the same time.
As Redfield explained, a flu season that’s more severe than the average can create a significant strain on hospitals and resources. Thankfully, the COVID-19 outbreak in the U.S. arrived just at the end of the flu season. He said that if the COVID-19 pandemic had hit the U.S. earlier and peaked at the same time as the peak flu season, “it could have been really, really, really, really difficult in terms of health capacity.”
The U.S. experienced a similar situation during the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic. The first wave of the pandemic hit the U.S. in the spring, and a second wave, which ended up being larger, occurred in the fall and winter at the same time as the flu season.