WebMD News Brief

Two More Years of COVID-19 Pandemic Likely

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May 4, 2020 - Today in the world of coronavirus news –

The coronavirus will likely spread for the next 18-24 months and infect up to 70% of the population, several pandemic experts said in a new report.

Even in a “best-case scenario,” people will continue to die, and ongoing infections will occur throughout this year and next year, according to the report released Thursday.

“This thing's not going to stop until it infects 60 to 70 percent of people,” Mike Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota, told CNN. “The idea that this is going to be done soon defies microbiology.”

Osterholm, who has advised several presidents on pandemics during the past two decades, co-authored the nine-page report, titled “COVID-19: The CIDRAP Viewpoint,” with epidemiologists from the Harvard School of Public Health and formerly from the CDC.

The team used prediction models, historic pandemic data and published reports about COVID-19 to forecast the next two years. Based on that, they said government officials should prepare for a long-term pandemic. They discussed three scenarios:

  1. The first scenario could be that the first wave of COVID-19 this spring is followed by several smaller waves during the summer and the next two years, gradually decreasing throughout 2021. This could vary by geography and require periodic shelter-in-place recommendations.
  2. The second scenario could be that the first wave is followed by a larger wave in the fall or winter, and then smaller waves in the 2021, which could require shelter-in-place measures again in the fall. This scenario mimics the 1918-1919 pandemic.
  3. The third scenario could be a “slow burn” of transmission during the next two years, which may not require additional shelter-in-place orders, but will continue to cause new cases and deaths.

To prepare, states should plan for the second scenario, or the “worst-case scenario,” they wrote, especially since the coronavirus has a long incubation period and is spread easily by people without symptoms. A vaccine could help, of course, but a widespread vaccine may not be likely until 2021, they added.

The University of Oxford announced last week that it could have results of its first clinical trials on a vaccine this summer.

The report is focused on the Northern Hemisphere. But the pandemic could be even harsher in developing countries in the Southern Hemisphere that lack health care infrastructure and have a high number of infections and illnesses that make COVID-19 symptoms more severe, according to the report.

“Government officials should develop concrete plans, including triggers for reinstituting mitigation measures, for dealing with disease peaks when they occur,” the authors wrote.

“Risk communication messaging from government officials should incorporate the concept that this pandemic will not be over soon and that people need to be prepared for possible periodic resurgences of disease over the next two years,” they said.

WebMD Health News Brief Reviewed by Michael W. Smith, MD on May 04, 2020


Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) at the University of Minnesota: “COVID-19: The CIDRAP Viewpoint.” 

CNN: “Expert report predicts up to two more years of pandemic misery.”

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