The U.S. Isn’t in a Second Wave of Coronavirus – The First Wave Never Ended
By Melissa Hawkins
After sustained declines in the number of COVID-19 cases over recent months, restrictions are starting to ease across the United States. Numbers of new cases are falling or stable at low numbers in some states, but they are surging in many others. Overall, the U.S. is experiencing a sharp increase in the number of new cases a day, and by late June, had surpassed the peak rate of spread in early April.
When seeing these increasing case numbers, it is reasonable to wonder if this is the dreaded second wave of the coronavirus – a resurgence of rising infections after a reduction in cases.
The U.S. as a whole is not in a second wave because the first wave never really stopped. The virus is simply spreading into new populations or resurging in places that let down their guard too soon.
Seven day rolling average of number of people confirmed to have COVID-19, per day (not including today). This chart gets updated once per day with data by Johns Hopkins. Johns Hopkins university doesn't provide reliable data for March 12 and March 13. Johns Hopkins CSSE Get the data
To Have a Second Wave, the First Wave Needs to End.
A wave of an infection describes a large rise and fall in the number of cases. There isn't a precise epidemiological definition of when a wave begins or ends.
But with talk of a second wave in the news, as an epidemiologist and public health researcher, I think there are two necessary factors that must be met before we can colloquially declare a second wave.
First, the virus would have to be controlled and transmission brought down to a very low level. That would be the end of the first wave. Then, the virus would need to reappear and result in a large increase in cases and hospitalizations.
Many countries in Europe and Asia have successfully ended the first wave. New Zealand and Iceland have also made it through their first waves and are now essentially coronavirus-free, with very low levels of community transmission and only a handful of active cases currently.
In the U.S., cases spiked in March and April and then trended downward due to social distancing guidance and implementation. However, the U.S. never reduced spread to low numbers that were sustained over time. Through May and early June, numbers plateaued at approximately 25,000 new cases daily.
We have left that plateau. Since mid-June, cases have been surging upwards. Additionally, the percentage of COVID-19 tests that are returning positive is climbing steeply, indicating that the increase in new cases is not simply a result of more testing, but the result of an increase in spread.
As of writing this, new deaths per day have not begun to climb, but some hospitals' intensive care units have recently reached full capacity. In the beginning of the outbreak, deaths often lagged behind confirmed infections. It is likely, as Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease specialist said on June 22, that deaths will soon follow the surge in new cases.
Different States, Different Trends
Looking at U.S. numbers as a whole hides what is really going on. Different states are in vastly different situations right now and when you look at states individually, four major categories emerge.
- Places where the first wave is ending: States in the Northeast and a few scattered elsewhere experienced large initial spikes but were able to mostly contain the virus and substantially brought down new infections. New York is a good example of this.
- Places still in the first wave: Several states in the South and West – see Texas and California – had some cases early on, but are now seeing massive surges with no sign of slowing down.
- Places in between: Many states were hit early in the first wave, managed to slow it down, but are either at a plateau – like North Dakota – or are now seeing steep increases – like Oklahoma.
- Places experiencing local second waves: Looking only at a state level, Hawaii, Montana and Alaska could be said to be experiencing second waves. Each state experienced relatively small initial outbreaks and was able to reduce spread to single digits of daily new confirmed cases, but are now all seeing spikes again.
The trends aren't surprising based on how states have been dealing with reopening. The virus will go wherever there are susceptible people and until the U.S. stops community spread across the entire country, the first wave isn't over.
What Could a Second Wave Look Like?
It is possible – though at this point it seems unlikely – that the U.S. could control the virus before a vaccine is developed. If that happens, it would be time to start thinking about a second wave. The question of what it might look like depends in large part on everyone's actions.
The 1918 flu pandemic was characterized by a mild first wave in the winter of 1917-1918 that went away in summer. After restrictions were lifted, people very quickly went back to pre-pandemic life. But a second, deadlier strain came back in fall of 1918 and third in spring of 1919. In total, more than 500 million people were infected worldwide and upwards of 50 million died over the course of three waves.
It was the combination of a quick return to normal life and a mutation in the flu's genome that made it more deadly that led to the horrific second and third waves.
Thankfully, the coronavirus appears to be much more genetically stable than the influenza virus, and thus less likely to mutate into a more deadly variant. That leaves human behavior as the main risk factor.
Until a vaccine or effective treatment is developed, the tried-and-true public health measures of the last months – social distancing, universal mask wearing, frequent hand-washing and avoiding crowded indoor spaces – are the ways to stop the first wave and thwart a second one. And when there are surges like what is happening now in the U.S., further reopening plans need to be put on hold.
Melissa Hawkins is a Professor of Public Health, Director of Public Health Scholars Program, American University.
Disclosure statement: Melissa Hawkins receives funding from USDA.
Reposted with permission from The Conversation.
- U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Now No. 1 in World - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Deaths Pass 100,000 - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Cases Top 2 Million as All 50 States Start ... ›
- Beaches Closing for July 4 Weekend Due to COVID-19 Surges - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Breaks World Record With More Than 55,000 New Coronavirus Cases in a Day - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. COVID-19 Death Toll Passes 130,000 Amid Surge in Cases - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Shatters Daily Coronavirus Case Record for 11th Time This Month - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Passes 4 Million Coronavirus Cases - EcoWatch ›
- U.S. Coronavirus Death Toll Tops 150,000 as Country Struggles to Contain Virus - EcoWatch ›
EcoWatch Daily Newsletter
A Michigan bald eagle proved that nature can still triumph over machines when it attacked and drowned a nearly $1,000 government drone.
- Judge Rules Against Trump's Attempt to Log in America's Largest ... ›
- Trump Admin Guts Endangered Species Act in the Midst of Climate ... ›
- 17 States Sue to Stop Trump Admin Attack on Endangered Species ... ›
A professional cycling race in Australia is under attack for its connections to a major oil and gas producer, the Guardian reports.
- Burning All Fossil Fuels Would Lead to a 17 C Rise in Arctic ... ›
- All Renewables Will Be Cost Competitive With Fossil Fuels by 2020 ... ›
- G20 Nations Spend $77 Billion a Year to Finance Fossil Fuels ... ›
- People Eat 50,000+ Microplastics Every Year, New Study Finds ... ›
- Microplastics Are Increasing in Our Lives, New Research Finds ... ›
- Sharks Are Polluted With Plastic, New Study Shows - EcoWatch ›
- 73% of Deep-Sea Fish Have Ingested Plastic - EcoWatch ›
- Scientists Launch Groundbreaking Study on Health Risks of ... ›
- 25% of Fish Sold at Markets Contain Plastic or Man-Made Debris ... ›
By Tara Lohan
Warming temperatures on land and in the water are already forcing many species to seek out more hospitable environments. Atlantic mackerel are swimming farther north; mountain-dwelling pikas are moving upslope; some migratory birds are altering the timing of their flights.
Numerous studies have tracked these shifting ranges, looked at the importance of wildlife corridors to protect these migrations, and identified climate refugia where some species may find a safer climatic haven.
"There's a huge amount of scientific literature about where species will have to move as the climate warms," says U.C. Berkeley biogeographer Matthew Kling. "But there hasn't been much work in terms of actually thinking about how they're going to get there — at least not when it comes to wind-dispersed plants."
Kling and David Ackerly, professor and dean of the College of Natural Resources at U.C. Berkeley, have taken a stab at filling this knowledge gap. Their recent study, published in Nature Climate Change, looks at the vulnerability of wind-dispersed species to climate change.
It's an important field of research, because while a fish can more easily swim toward colder waters, a tree may find its wind-blown seeds landing in places and conditions where they're not adapted to grow.
Kling is careful to point out that the researchers weren't asking how climate change was going to change wind; other research suggests there likely won't be big shifts in global wind patterns.
Instead the study involved exploring those wind patterns — including direction, speed and variability — across the globe. The wind data was then integrated with data on climate variation to build models trying to predict vulnerability patterns showing where wind may either help or hinder biodiversity from responding to climate change.
One of the study's findings was that wind-dispersed or wind-pollinated trees in the tropics and on the windward sides of mountain ranges are more likely to be vulnerable, since the wind isn't likely to move those dispersers in the right direction for a climate-friendly environment.
The researchers also looked specifically at lodgepole pines, a species that's both wind-dispersed and wind-pollinated.
They found that populations of lodgepole pines that already grow along the warmer and drier edges of the species' current range could very well be under threat due to rising temperatures and related climate alterations.
"As temperature increases, we need to think about how the genes that are evolved to tolerate drought and heat are going to get to the portions of the species' range that are going to be getting drier and hotter," says Kling. "So that's what we were able to take a stab at predicting and estimating with these wind models — which populations are mostly likely to receive those beneficial genes in the future."
That's important, he says, because wind-dispersed species like pines, willows and poplars are often keystone species whole ecosystems depend upon — especially in temperate and boreal forests.
And there are even more plants that rely on pollen dispersal by wind.
"That's going to be important for moving genes from the warmer parts of a species' range to the cooler parts of the species' range," he says. "This is not just about species' ranges shifting, but also genetic changes within species."
Kling says this line of research is just beginning, and much more needs to be done to test these models in the field. But there could be important conservation-related benefits to that work.
"All these species and genes need to migrate long distances and we can be thinking more about habitat connectivity and the vulnerability of these systems," he says.
The more we learn, the more we may be able to do to help species adapt.
"The idea is that there will be some landscapes where the wind is likely to help these systems naturally adapt to climate change without much intervention, and other places where land managers might really need to intervene," he says. "That could involve using assisted migration or assisted gene flow to actually get in there, moving seeds or planting trees to help them keep up with rapid climate change."
Tara Lohan is deputy editor of The Revelator and has worked for more than a decade as a digital editor and environmental journalist focused on the intersections of energy, water and climate. Her work has been published by The Nation, American Prospect, High Country News, Grist, Pacific Standard and others. She is the editor of two books on the global water crisis. http://twitter.com/TaraLohan
Reposted with permission from The Revelator.
The last Ice Age eliminated some giant mammals, like the woolly rhino. Conventional thinking initially attributed their extinction to hunting. While overhunting may have contributed, a new study pinpointed a different reason for the woolly rhinos' extinction: climate change.
The last of the woolly rhinos went extinct in Siberia nearly 14,000 years ago, just when the Earth's climate began changing from its frozen conditions to something warmer, wetter and less favorable to the large land mammal. DNA tests conducted by scientists on 14 well-preserved rhinos point to rapid warming as the culprit, CNN reported.
"Humans are well known to alter their environment and so the assumption is that if it was a large animal it would have been useful to people as food and that must have caused its demise," says Edana Lord, a graduate student at the Center for Paleogenetics in Stockholm, Sweden, and co-first author of the paper, Smithsonian Magazine reported. "But our findings highlight the role of rapid climate change in the woolly rhino's extinction."
The study, published in Current Biology, notes that the rhino population stayed fairly consistent for tens of thousands of years until 18,500 years ago. That means that people and rhinos lived together in Northern Siberia for roughly 13,000 years before rhinos went extinct, Science News reported.
The findings are an ominous harbinger for large species during the current climate crisis. As EcoWatch reported, nearly 1,000 species are expected to go extinct within the next 100 years due to their inability to adapt to a rapidly changing climate. Tigers, eagles and rhinos are especially vulnerable.
The difference between now and the phenomenon 14,000 years ago is that human activity is directly responsible for the current climate crisis.
To figure out the cause of the woolly rhinos' extinction, scientists examined DNA from different rhinos across Siberia. The tissue, bone and hair samples allowed them to deduce the population size and diversity for tens of thousands of years prior to extinction, CNN reported.
Researchers spent years exploring the Siberian permafrost to find enough samples. Then they had to look for pristine genetic material, Smithsonian Magazine reported.
It turns out the wooly rhinos actually thrived as they lived alongside humans.
"It was initially thought that humans appeared in northeastern Siberia fourteen or fifteen thousand years ago, around when the woolly rhinoceros went extinct. But recently, there have been several discoveries of much older human occupation sites, the most famous of which is around thirty thousand years old," senior author Love Dalén, a professor of evolutionary genetics at the Center for Paleogenetics, said in a press release.
"This paper shows that woolly rhino coexisted with people for millennia without any significant impact on their population," Grant Zazula, a paleontologist for Canada's Yukon territory and Simon Fraser University who was not involved in the research, told Smithsonian Magazine. "Then all of a sudden the climate changed and they went extinct."
- Sixth Mass Extinction Accelerating, Study of Land Animals Finds ... ›
- Biggest Animals Face Extinction Due to Hunting - EcoWatch ›
- Back From Extinction: Returning Threatened Pangolins to the Wild ... ›
The environmental disaster that Mauritius is facing is starting to appear as its pristine waters turn black, its fish wash up dead, and its sea birds are unable to take flight, as they are limp under the weight of the fuel covering them. For all the damage to the centuries-old coral that surrounds the tiny island nation in the Indian Ocean, scientists are realizing that the damage could have been much worse and there are broad lessons for the shipping industry, according to Al Jazeera.
- 10 Years After Deepwater Horizon Oil Spill, Threat of Disaster ... ›
- Oil Spill Disasters: How to Limit Environmental Damage - EcoWatch ›
- These Danish Companies Plan to Decarbonize Transportation ... ›
- Massive Oil Spill Turns Brazil's Beaches Black, Kills Marine Life ... ›
- Shipping Industry Could Replace Diesel Fuel With Ammonia to ... ›
Transitioning to renewable energy can help reduce global warming, and Jennie Stephens of Northeastern University says it can also drive social change.
For example, she says that locally owned businesses can lead the local clean energy economy and create new jobs in underserved communities.
"We really need to think about … connecting climate and energy with other issues that people wake up every day really worried about," she says, "whether it be jobs, housing, transportation, health and well-being."
To maximize that potential, she says the energy sector must have more women and people of color in positions of influence. Research shows that leadership in the solar industry, for example, is currently dominated by white men.
"I think that a more inclusive, diverse leadership is essential to be able to effectively make these connections," Stephens says. "Diversity is not just about who people are and their identity, but the ideas and the priorities and the approaches and the lens that they bring to the world."
So she says by elevating diverse voices, organizations can better connect the climate benefits of clean energy with social and economic transformation.
Reposted with permission from Yale Climate Connections.