All 50 states have begun to “reopen” in some fashion. Restaurants and retailers are resuming business, with varying degrees of restrictions. But this does not mean that COVID-19 is gone. In some places, the number of cases are diminishing. But in others, cases still continue to rise, even as states begin to reopen.
Most public health experts agree that there will be a rise in COVID cases when social distancing guidelines are relaxed. The more time we spend around others and the more people we see, the more likely we are to get sick ourselves or spread COVID-19. In fact, we saw something similar during the flu pandemic of 1918. This flu had three waves over the course of the year (see figure below), and some cities saw a second peak of cases when they relaxed restrictions.
Three pandemic waves: weekly combined influenza and pneumonia mortality, United Kingdom, 1918–1919. [Source: Morens DM, Taubenberger JK. influenza: The mother of all pandemics. Emerging Infectious Diseases. 1918;12(1):15-22.]
There is good news though! There is plenty you can do to reduce the risk for you and those around you. You can continue to wash our hands, maintain distance from others, and wear masks in public. If possible, continue to work from home.
Our articles on “herd immunity” and “flattening the curve” explain why people will continue to get sick until we have a vaccine or enough people get the virus to achieve herd immunity, and why all of these social distancing measures are still important. Too many cases could overwhelm hospitals, making it difficult for patients to get the vital care they need.
The truth is, we don’t know what is going to happen next. But one thing is for certain - the coronavirus will still be with us when we reopen. It is up to us to take care of ourselves and those around us to keep the number of cases low.
Last update: May 26, 2020 4:23 pm ET
Science review: HAY, ERS, JAB