The evolution of the coronavirus pandemic remains an untold story, but Dr. Michael Osterholm continues to preach that the worst-case scenario is if the virus goes dormant this summer before returning with more muscle later this year.
Osterholm, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) and a Regents Professor at the University of Minnesota, reiterated his concern in an interview with WCCO Radio Wednesday morning.
Osterholm first explained what he believes often confuses the public: The difference between a wave and a peak during a pandemic. In short, peaks are high points in different areas across the globe during a wave. While Minnesota's peak is fast approaching, according to state health leaders, New York, Italy, China and Spain have already endured the worst of the first wave's peak.
Over the next 1-2 months, along with what's happened since February, would really constitute one wave with peaks within in," Osterholm explained. "What we're worried about, if it acts like a flu virus, is it may very well actually go dormant, go quiet over the summer months – a time period of about 2-3 months after that first wave.
While a quiet period might allow locked down parts of the U.S. to regain some economic footing, it could also serve as a predictor for a more powerful second wave later this year.
"This would be the worst thing that could happen," Osterholm said. "Given previous influenza pandemics, and this not an influenza virus so we don't know for certain it will act like that, but if it did, by far the second wave was the worst one of each of the pandemics."
He said a second wave in late summer or early fall that lasts 3-4 months "could make everything we've experienced so far seem mild."
There are more than 100,000 confirmed deaths from COVID-19 in the United States. Minnesota, after 33 new deaths reported Wednesday, has reached 932 COVID-19 deaths since the first was reported Mar. 21. There are also 10 deaths suspected to have been caused by the respiratory disease.
State health leaders say Minnesota has yet to reach the peak of the first wave, though it is projected to happened sometime between June and early August.
To be clear, Osterholm and a team of researchers at CIDRAP previously three possible scenarios for how the pandemic could unfold. The aforementioned scenario featuring the larger second wave is the worst. The other scenarios are explained below.
Peaks and valleys scenario: First wave in spring 2020 (now) followed by a series of smaller waves that last through the summer and consistently over the next year or two, gradually diminishing in 2021.
This scenario could feature outbreaks that vary by location and would depend on what types of mitigation are enforced.
Slow burn scenario: Cases and deaths continue to occur but it would likely not require continued mitigation but could result in hot spots of outbreak in certain locations. Past influenza pandemics didn't follow this pattern, but the research says this could happen with COVID-19.