‘Darkest’ months of the COVID-19 pandemic could come this winter, experts say

Summer Lin
·3 min read

Health experts say the number of coronavirus cases could rise during the winter months ahead of the flu season.

Dr. Michael Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said “the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic.”

“We do have vaccines and therapeutics coming down the pike,” Osterholm said on NBC’s “Meet the Press” on Sunday. “But when you actually look at the time period for that, the next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic.”

Osterholm added that “vaccines will not become available in any meaningful way until early to third quarter of next year.”

“And even then, half of the US population, at this point, is skeptical of even taking the vaccine,” Osterholm said. “So what we have right now is a major problem in messaging.”

More than 8 million in the U.S. have tested positive for the coronavirus as of Monday, Oct. 19, according to Johns Hopkins University, and 219,000 have died nationwide. The U.S. leads the world in deaths attributed to the coronavirus, data show, and is fifth in the world for deaths per 100,000 people behind Peru, Brazil, Spain and Mexico.

As of Friday, COVID-19 cases are rising by 5% or more in 38 states, according to a CNBC analysis of Johns Hopkins University data. There is an average of around 55,000 new cases daily, which is more than a 16% increase from a week ago.

“You can’t enter into the cool months of the fall and the cold months of the winter with a high community infection baseline,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert, said, according to CNBC. Fauci said the percentage of positive tests is “going in the wrong direction” in 30 states or more.

Dr. Michael Mina, a professor at Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, said the current situation is like a “growing forest fire with small sparks all over the U.S.” that will get stronger as it gets colder, NPR reported.

“We are likely to see massive explosions of cases and outbreaks that could potentially make what we’ve seen so far look like it hasn’t been that much,” Mina said.

One model from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) at the University of Washington School of Medicine forecasts, at the current rate, there will be around 389,087 deaths in the U.S. by Feb. 1, meaning around 171,000 more people would die in the next four months.

The model warns that deaths could rise if preventive mandates ease across the country — with at least 482,931 deaths by Feb. 1. If all Americans wear masks, then the U.S. could save around 168,000 people from dying when compared to the worst case scenario.

Students returning to school, resistance to mask wearing and social distancing, and people spending time indoors has led to a rise in cases, said Tara Smith, a professor of epidemiology at Kent State University, according to NPR.

“We were really hoping to crater the cases in preparation for a bad winter,” Smith said. “We’ve done basically the opposite.”