First wave, second, third and so on? German researchers warned in early May that successive outbreaks of COVID-19 were highly likely, while a former head of the Centers for Disease Control spoke of “many waves” if the U.S. reopens too soon. But as countries around the world ease their lockdowns and try to kickstart their economies, cases are surging.
In Asia, new cases set off mass testing campaigns and partial lockdowns.
Single cases across Asia have repeatedly sparked entire clusters of cases, highlighting the fragility of post-lockdown normalcy.
China kicked off a push to test all 11 million residents of Wuhan, the original epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak, after confirming a cluster of six new cases. The diagnoses ended the city’s 35-day run of zero new cases. Another cluster sprang up in Jilin, a city of about 4.5 million people, where a laundry worker spread the virus to 21 other people in a week. The city immediately went back under a partial lockdown. Hong Kong also announced two new cases on May 13, ending a 23 day no-case streak.
Singapore was hailed for its effective response to the outbreak earlier this year, which included strict measures for arrivals in airports, widespread testing and an emphasis on contact tracing. But the country didn’t extend that to its migrant worker communities, resulting in outbreaks within crowded dormitories. All 323,000 foreign workers will be tested as the government forges ahead with a phased reopening, which began May 12.
South Korea started to come off its lockdown until a new spate of cases in the entertainment district of Itaewon caused the re-closure of over 2,000 bars and clubs. The government dispatched 8,000 police to trace the 11,000 people that visited the district using phone and credit card data. Some, however, say the aggressive contact tracing could out members of the LGBTQ+ community or spark homophobia, since the cluster of over 100 cases was traced back to one young party-goer who visited several gay nightclubs.
U.S. states are reopening before the end of the first wave.
Non-binding White House guidelines recommended that states have a “downward trajectory” in either cases or positive test results for two weeks before they reopen. But many states are lifting stay at home orders before meeting these standards. Scientists say the U.S. is reopening sooner than is safe, since the country hasn’t implemented widespread testing and contact tracing.
Americans are already flocking to beaches, parks and playgrounds over warm weekends. One standoff over public mask-wearing in Flint, Michigan ended in the fatal shooting of a security guard. The U.S. curve is sloping downward for now, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University, but the curve has pointed down before, only to shoot back up five times in a series of mini peaks.
Hotspots are developing in towns and rural communities in the South, including Texas, Tennessee and Alabama. Most of the outbreaks are centered in meatpacking facilities, and are often in states without stay at home orders, that implemented them late compared to other states or that reopened early.
Is there an “after” COVID-19?
The virus has proven hard to beat completely in countries with aggressive first responses, like Singapore and South Korea, and it’s just started to pummel Latin America and Russia. White House coronavirus task force member Anthony Fauci indicated in a paper published May 11 that not one, but multiple vaccines, would be necessary to effectively fight outbreaks and keep up with high demand.
Pharmaceutical giants are teaming up to develop new vaccines, and they’ve reportedly made progress. At a May 12 Senate hearing, Fauci said that eight vaccine candidates are in the works, and some could begin production as early as the fall. Biopharmaceutical company Moderna announced that same day that the Food and Drug Administration fast-tracked its experimental vaccine. The label means that Moderna and the FDA will communicate more frequently, allowing the drug to get through the regulatory process faster.
Vaccines typically take years to develop and test, however, and some scientists warn that these sped-up timelines might not leave enough time for safety testing. Still, vaccines might represent the best chance we have at ending the pandemic.
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