On the heels of the White House guidelines outlining rules to phase out strict lockdowns in many U.S. states, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Robert Redfield warned that the virus could resurface next winter.
“We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” Redfield said in an interview with The Washington Post. He implied that people right now are unable to comprehend the possibility of the virus reappearing in the country next winter. “Having two simultaneous respiratory outbreaks would put unimaginable strain on the health-care system,” he said.
Redfield emphasized the need to immensely scale up testing and contact tracing to prevent another uncontainable situation.
This was also a concern for Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security and the Association of State and Territorial Health Officials. According to their approximation, about 100,000 contact tracers need to be hired to complete this process effectively, for which Congress needs to shell out $3.6 billion dollars. This statement was made after a paper hinting at the same possibility of a seasonal occurence was published in the journal Science on April 14.
Study Speculates COVID-19 Can Resurface Until 2025
This latest study conducted by Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health delved into how two human coronaviruses are transmitted seasonally, namely the beta-coronaviruses OC43 and HKU1, that are responsible for flu-like symptoms amongst people in the United States. The team discovered through simulations and projections that SARS-CoV-2 could become as seasonal and endemic as the flu if more research is not urgently conducted.
If a person were to get one of the two commonly acquired coronaviruses by humans, that individual could develop a kind of immunity to SARS-CoV-2 as well. This is called cross-immunity. Depending on the level of immunity established through contracting the other human coronaviruses, the virus can re-emerge three to five or more years later and the strains will not permanently disappear, the team explained further.
Since resources and treatments are scarce for the new coronavirus, social distancing may have to be enforced every now and then up to 2022, the researchers hypothesize. “Additional interventions, including expanded critical care capacity and an effective therapeutic, would improve the success of intermittent distancing and hasten the acquisition of herd immunity,” the researchers stated in the paper.
However, herd immunity is not easy to accomplish. Being too strict about social distancing measures may not have the intended effect, as it could prevent the formation of herd immunity by keeping people too far apart. In another hypothesis, after a 20-week period of physical distancing, the epidemic emerged again almost as much as it was during its peak, the researchers found.
Through blood samples, serological testing measures antibodies in response to an infection, and is required to evaluate how the virus will be transmitted in the future. Researchers emphasized that serological testing is the need of the hour.
“Sustained, widespread surveillance will be needed both in the short term to effectively implement intermittent social distancing measures and in the long term to assess the possibility of resurgences of SARS-CoV-2 infection, which could occur as late as 2025 even after a prolonged period of apparent elimination,” the researchers said in the paper.