In mid-March, I started noticing a theme in my social circle in New York, where I live: COVID – it finally got me! I didn’t like it much at the time. Only a few of my friends seemed to be affected, and the case count was still quite low, all things considered. In April, images of quick tests showing the dreaded double bars appeared all over my Instagram feed. As the number of cases had risen slowly but steadily, I put the trend in the back of my mind. His presence continued to nag quietly in May, when I attended a party at a crowded hotel and threw myself into a furious mosh pit. While I was sweating, the cases were still creeping up.
Only last week, more than two months laterIn the end, there have been no more cases in New York, but they are more on a plateau than they have relapsed to Earth. If you just look at the number of cases, this rise isn’t even in the same stratosphere as Omicron’s peak during the winter, but our current numbers are certainly a massive undercount now that rapid tests are everywhere. A similar kind of elongated wave has been unfolding across the Northeast in recent months, and frankly it’s a little weird: The biggest waves to hit the region are tsunamis of infections that come and go, as opposed to the rising tide we have. . am seeing now. Other parts of the country currently seem poised to follow the northeast. In the past two weeks, cases have increased noticeably in states such as Arizona, South Carolina and West Virginia; The daily average number of cases in California is up 36 percent. In April, I called the latest twist of the coronavirus an “invisible wave.” Now I’m starting to see it as the “When will it end?” Golf.
Think of New York City, which at that time was the epicenter of several waves, including the one we’re dealing with now. When Omicron arrived last fall, cases jumped very quickly as the new, more transmissible variant broke existing immune defenses and infected many people, spreading the virus like wildfire. A combination of factors quickly extinguished the flame: People got a boost, public health messages changed and some people changed their behavior, and eventually so many had gotten sick that the virus had fewer people to infect. That’s not what seems to be happening now. For starters, the shape of the curve feels different: From December 2021 to mid-February 2022 — about two and a half months — Omicron built a skyscraper on the charts. Since March, the current wave has only pulled the rising half of what appears to be a modest hill – and again, the true shape is much larger. In general, the same trends have happened elsewhere. It is now June and new images of rapid test results are still circulating in my social circle. Why did this wave feel so different?
The main reason, public health experts said, is that, in general, Americans are now better protected from COVID than in previous times when the number of infections soared. Omicron was a completely new variant when it first struck in winter and crisscrossed much of the country. “We’ve built a lot of immunity because so many people got sick,” Marisa Eisenberg, an epidemiologist at the University of Michigan, told me. So far, that immunity seems to dampen the spread of the two new forms of Omicron that are behind the current sprawling spate of cases. “It’s imperfect, but it’s at least some protection,” Joe Gerald, a professor of public health at the University of Arizona, told me. “If we take people out of the susceptible pool, the math is basically working against a large and fast outbreak, so it would slow the transmission and make the size of the wave smaller.”
Another important factor to consider is the onset of warmer weather, especially in colder parts of the country. School is almost out, if it isn’t already, and although people are getting together more and traveling more, they probably do so outside of the home. In other words, even if people get infected with new strains of Omicron, they are not able to spread it as efficiently. “These are not ideal transmission conditions for this mostly wintry virus,” Gerald said. Seasonality may also be a reason that cases have risen for the first time in the Northeast, as the “When will it end?” wave started when it was relatively cooler and people tended to gather indoors.
UCLA epidemiologist Tim Brewer said he’s confident COVID settles into similar seasonal patterns to illnesses like the flu and the common cold. We’ve seen smaller waves before outside of the winter months, he pointed out. “What’s going on now is very similar to what happened if you look back at 2020, from June to July. It had a gradual increase in the number of cases and then it stabilized for a while. hopefully [soon] they will level off.” That said, what we’re seeing now isn’t identical to earlier stages of the pandemic: The reported cases are now much, much higher than they were in the summer of 2020, which is before you can account for all the infections missed at this point. Also, the start of the summer 2020 wave wasn’t as insanely slow as this one.
Meanwhile, reported cases continue to rise in other regions, namely the South and Southwest. That raises the uncomfortable, frustrating possibility that we’re stuck in this wave for quite some time. But again, even that’s hard to know at this point, especially since our view of the basic pandemic numbers is so obscure. “What makes it difficult to understand how a new wave might turn out is that we still struggle to understand how large our susceptible population is, how many people are actually infected, and how quickly immunity declines due to both vaccination and previous infection. said Gerald. Ultimately, as we learn more about this virus, we may become better at predicting its next turn. But for now, “there will also be weird spikes that happen when they happen,” Eisenberg added.
There’s No Sugar Coating: The “When Will It End?” golf is frustrating. We are entering our third pandemic summer, and again, the number of cases is so high that activities like indoor dining and weddings can be accompanied by a real fear of getting sick. But that pattern of slow and steady dispersion also has advantages. It’s exactly what we need to prevent our healthcare system from becoming overwhelmed – with all the side effects of delayed procedures and hospital burnout that come with it. About 25,000 Americans are currently hospitalized with COVID, compared to more than 150,000 at Omicron’s peak. There’s a reason “flatten the curve” became an early pandemic slogan – by detecting infections, we help ensure hospitals have space for us when we need it, whether that’s for COVID or any other reason .
But we shouldn’t feel too comfortable. This winter could turn bad again – the Biden administration predicts we’ll see 100 million new cases in the fall and winter, and a new variant could worsen that outlook. However, such a plight is not inevitable. If anything, the “When will it end?” wave reminds us that dramatic, all-consuming peaks aren’t necessarily our destiny. Slowing down this virus, whether through vaccinations or ventilation upgrades — or, in this case, the happy coincidence of immunity and weather — can go a long way. “The more we interfere with this virus’s ability to replicate and transmit, the fewer cases there will be, and the less we interfere with its ability to replicate and transmit, the more cases there will be,” he said. brewer. “It’s that simple.”