Second Wave Worst Than the First?
The CDC director predicts a double whammy when flu season hits.
Just when serious people are saying we’ve flattened the curve and governors are talking about easing stay-at-home restrictions, the nation’s top disease control official is warning of more devastation.
WaPo (“CDC director warns second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating“):
Even as states move ahead with plans to reopen their economies, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday that a second wave of the novel coronavirus will be far more dire because it is likely to coincide with the start of flu season.
“There’s a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”
“We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” he said.
Having two simultaneous respiratory outbreaks would put unimaginable strain on the health-care system, he said. The first wave of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has already killed more than 42,000 people across the country. It has overwhelmed hospitals and revealed gaping shortages in test kits, ventilators and protective equipment for health-care workers.
In a wide-ranging interview, Redfield said federal and state officials need to use the coming months to prepare for what lies ahead. As stay-at-home orders are lifted, officials need to stress the continued importance of social distancing, he said. They also need to massively scale up their ability to identify the infected through testing and find everyone they interact with through contact tracing. Doing so prevents new cases from becoming larger outbreaks.
In the summer months, U.S. health officials need to persuade Americans to think ahead to the fall and the importance of getting flu shots. That way, public health officials can minimize the number of people hospitalized from flu. Getting a flu vaccination, Redfield said, “may allow there to be a hospital bed available for your mother or grandmother that may get coronavirus.”
Luckily, the arrival of the novel coronavirus in the United States came as the regular flu season was waning, he said. By itself, a severe influenza season can strain hospitals and clinics.
If the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak and flu season had peaked at the same time, he said, “it could have been really, really, really, really difficult in terms of health capacity.”
During the 2009 H1N1 swine flu pandemic, the United States experienced the first wave of cases in the spring, followed by a second, larger wave in the fall and winter, during flu season.
Even in ordinary times, it can be difficult to find flu vaccine available. One suspects that will be even more likely this time.