“We must be prepared for at least another 18 to 24 months of significant COVID-19 activity, with hot spots popping up periodically in diverse geographic areas. As the pandemic wanes, it is likely that SARS-CoV-2 [the virus that causes COVID-19] will continue to circulate in the human population and will synchronize to a seasonal pattern with diminished severity over time,” the report states.
The report also explains that the asymptomatic fraction of COVID-19 cases is higher than that of influenza, a disease that can spread in similar ways. While the average percentage of flu cases that are asymptomatic is 16%, health officials believe that 25% or more of COVID-19 cases are asymptomatic, making it a challenge to control the spread of the novel coronavirus.
The report outlines three scenarios for the pandemic. In the first scenario, “repetitive smaller waves” of the outbreak will continue through the summer and then “consistently over a 1-to 2-year period, gradually diminishing sometime in 2021.”
In the second scenario, the first COVID-19 wave will be followed by a “larger wave in the fall or winter of 2020 and one or more subsequent waves in 2021. This pattern will require the reinstitution of mitigation measures in the fall in an attempt to drive down spread of infection and prevent health care systems from being overwhelmed.”
In the third and final scenario, the first wave in 2020 will be followed by a “‘slow burn’ of ongoing transmission and case occurrence, but without a clear wave pattern.”
The researchers based their analysis on data from eight major pandemics that have occured since the early 1700s.
The researchers also urged states, territories and tribal health authorities to plan for the worst-case scenario - the second one outlined - and to assume that there will be no “vaccine availability or herd community.”
The report also calls on officials to “develop strategies to ensure adequate protection for health care workers when disease incidence surges” as well as “concrete plans, including triggers for reinstituting mitigation measures, for dealing with disease peaks when they occur.” The researchers also urged government officials to communicate to the public that they should be ready for “possible periodic resurgences” of the disease during the next two years.
This report comes as more than 30 US states will have eased lockdown restrictions by the end of the next week.
The latest data by Worldometer reveals that there are more than 3 million cases of the coronavirus worldwide. More than 237,000 people have died due to the respiratory illness.