DALLAS (NEXSTAR) — As the world marks 1 million coronavirus cases and restrictions across the globe ease, many experts fear the planet is just weeks away from another COVID-19 surge.
Since the height of the coronavirus pandemic this past spring, experts have been warning about a second spike likely to hit the United States before the end of 2020. According to most experts, this “second wave” could arrive as early as October and hit its peak in December.
A highly-sourced model from University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation predicts a death toll around 1,200 on Election Day — which would be dramatically higher than the 750 we’re seeing now.
As we move into early December, the model shows deaths peaking at around 3,000 each day.
The model predicts the U.S. will have 370,000 deaths by the end of 2020. It includes a best-case scenario of 252,000 deaths and a worst-case scenario of 555,000.
“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 Washington Post earlier this month.
Respiratory viruses tend to spread more easily in cooler weather with less humidity. The experts say those conditions allow viruses to remain viable for longer periods of time.
Additionally, people tend to stay indoors in colder months.
To date, infection spikes have typically followed the loosening of restrictions or shutdown orders. With many states doing that and kids returning to school, we’re already seeing an increase in cases across more than 30 states. In fact, the New York Times reports a 23% increase in nationwide coronavirus cases over the last 14 days.
While deaths have only increased 2% during that same period, experts warn deaths spikes typically lag far behind infection rates because of the virus’ extended incubation period.
“I expect fall waves starting in mid-October and getting worse as fall heads into winter, and reaching a crescendo certainly after the election,” said Andrew Noymer, an epidemiologist at the University of California at Irvine, in an interview with the Washington Post. “Some places will peak around Thanksgiving, some places will peak around Christmas, some places not until January and February.”
The best way to avoid dying from the coronavirus remains to avoid getting it, and experience has shown that the simple measures advocated by public health officials work.
“Prevention is the most important step right now as we’re waiting for a vaccine and we’re improving treatment,” said Dr. Jesse Goodman, a former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief scientist now at Georgetown University.
Wearing a face mask, washing hands, keeping at least 6 feet apart and disinfecting surfaces have shown a positive effect on curbing spread.
If more people stick with common-sense measures like closing bars, “we should improve our ability to manage this” and prevent more deaths, said Dr. Cyrus Shahpar, a former U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention scientist now at the nonprofit group Resolve to Save Lives. “It should take longer to get to the next million if it ever happens.”
The Associated Press contributed to this report.