A second wave of coronavirus cases in the US could be even worse than the first, the country’s top health official has warned.
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) director Robert Redfield said the danger was higher as a fresh outbreak would likely coincide with the flu season. It would put “unimaginable strain” on the US health care system, he said. The US has seen more than 800,000 cases – the highest in the world.
Even as states move ahead with plans to reopen their economies, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warned Tuesday that a second wave of the novel coronavirus will be far more dire because it is likely to coincide with the start of flu season.
“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,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said in an interview with The Washington Post. “And when I’ve said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don’t understand what I mean.”
“We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time,” he said.
Having two simultaneous respiratory outbreaks would put unimaginable strain on the health-care system, he said. The first wave of covid-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, has already killed more than 42,000 people across the country. It has overwhelmed hospitals and revealed gaping shortages in test kits, ventilators and protective equipment for health-care workers.
In a wide-ranging interview, Redfield said federal and state officials need to use the coming months to prepare for what lies ahead. As stay-at-home orders are lifted, officials need to stress the continued importance of social distancing, he said. They also need to massively scale up their ability to identify the infected through testing and find everyone they interact with through contact tracing. Doing so prevents new cases from becoming larger outbreaks.
The CDC has also drafted detailed guidance for state and local governments on how they can ease mitigation efforts, moving from drastic restrictions such as stay-at-home orders in a phased way to support a safe reopening. Redfield said that guidance will be “in the public domain shortly.”
The CDC has about 500 staff in the states working on a variety of public health issues, and most will pivot to the covid-19 response, Redfield said. The CDC also plans to hire at least another 650 people as experts to “substantially augment” public health personnel in the states and assist with contact tracing, among other tasks, he said.