The Corner

Health Care

At Minimum, We Will Be Better Prepared for the Autumn Wave of the Coronavirus

A worker checks part of a delivery of 64 hospital beds from Hillrom to The Mount Sinai Hospital during the outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Manhattan, New York City, March 31, 2020. (Andrew Kelly/Reuters)

No doubt that Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, knows more about medicine and human health than I will ever know. But I was surprised to see headlines that Redfield declared the “second wave of coronavirus is likely to be even more devastating.”

If you read the article, you learn that’s not quite what he said. “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 . . . We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time.” Somewhere along the line, “a possibility” turned into “likely.”

The state of the outbreak in autumn is dependent upon so many variables that it’s really hard to say what it will be like in six months. But even I, allegedly an Eeyore-like pessimist on most matters regarding this virus, think that autumn and next winter will be at least somewhat better than the past few months. For starters, this virus won’t be able to sneak up on us a second time. No one will be downplaying its potential dire effects on human health. In the fall, not even New York City mayor Bill de Blasio is likely to be saying things like “if you’re not sick, you should be going about your life,” days before closing the city’s schools.

Six months from now, we will have much more personal protective equipment and ventilators in our stockpiles, and more tests — and perhaps more reliable ones. Our hospitals and doctors’ offices will know what to look for and what to expect.

By October and November, every big city hospital in the country and around the world will have considerable experience treating coronavirus patients. We will know more about how effective remdesivir is, and chloroquine and hydrochloroquine, and Mystesi, and laying patients on their stomachs. We will know more about whether plasma treatments can be effective. While we shouldn’t fool ourselves into thinking any of this wave would be easy, we will probably have a menu of treatment options and much better data on how well they work.

With more widespread testing, we should be better at tracing the contacts of those who test positive — getting them to quickly self-quarantine and minimize the spread further. We were unable to emulate South Korea’s good practices in the first months of 2020, but we still could get organized enough to do it in the last few months.

We will all have more practice — probably many will feel too much practice ––with social distancing. Almost everyone in America will already have their masks. We’re probably not getting any big events with large crowds this summer — conventions, concerts, sporting events. (They may go on, but only televised.) Hopefully over the summer months we don’t fall out of the habit of washing our hands frequently.

Those who have caught the coronavirus and fought it off in the early part of this year should have immunity in the fall and winter — but there’s a catch. Doctors don’t know how effective antibodies to one strain are against other strains, and there’s always the possibility that between now and next autumn, the virus mutates sufficiently to allow reinfection of those who beat it earlier.

All of this will help not just with the coronavirus, but also with next season’s strains of the flu. I think that it is likely that when next year’s flu vaccine is available to the public, it will be more popular than a new iPhone. (Hopefully the coming public service announcements won’t be as subtly unnerving and ominous as the ones from the television series Counterpart.) I think the anti-vaccination movement is about to shift from being controversial and criticized to intensely controversial and extremely widely criticized.

Add it all up, and we should be better prepared and with wider use of good habits. We’ve already seen what appears to be a significant impact on the tail end of this year’s winter flu season. We should still be careful; the second wave of the 1918 influenza pandemic was the worst — but that was exacerbated by World War I, and the fact that so many governments felt quarantines were impossible while fighting a war.

One horseman of the Apocalypse at a time, please.

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