US research predicts 3 futures for coronavirus: Small waves, fall peak, ‘slow burn’

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The future of the coronavirus pandemic can either be several small waves of new infections, a bigger wave of infections than the current levels followed by one or more smaller waves or a “slow burn” of continued virus transmission without distinct peaks, according to researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) center at the University of Minnesota in the United States.

The researchers based their scenario predictions on a comparison to pandemic influenza and identifying similarities with COVID-19.

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A pandemic influenza virus and the coronavirus are both novel viruses the world has no preexisting immunity to, they both spread via droplets and small aerosols, they both can be transmitted through people who don’t show any symptoms and are both capable of infecting millions.

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Their predicted scenarios for the future of the coronavirus pandemic are as follows:

Scenario 1: The first wave of coronavirus infections in spring 2020 is followed by a series of smaller waves that occur consistently over 1-2 years, that will gradually diminish in 2021.

The researchers say that governments should reinstitute or ease containment measures such as lockdowns and curfews depending on the height of the peaks.

Scenario 2 (The “worst-case”): The first wave of coronavirus infections in spring 2020 is followed by a larger wave in the fall or winter of 2020 and then one or more smaller waves in 2021.

Governments should reinstitute containment measures in the fall to try to lower the spread of the virus and protect the healthcare sector from being overwhelmed.

Scenario 3: The first wave of coronavirus infections in spring 2020 is followed by a “slow burn” of continued COVID-19 transmission without a clear wave pattern.

This scenario would not require government to reinstitute containment measures, though new cases of infection and deaths will continue to occur.

“Whichever scenario the pandemic follows (assuming at least some level of ongoing mitigation measures), 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,” the researchers said.

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