Weeks and months before the United States faced an imminent threat from the novel coronavirus, countries like China, South Korea, and Germany grappled with the deadly pandemic. After intense lockdowns and social distancing measures, these countries began slowly reopening in early spring.
Though initially hopeful that the worse of the pandemic had passed, reports of new infection cases in these countries may indicate the possibility of a second outbreak. As the U.S launches its own reopening efforts, here’s what we should keep in mind.
In the early days of the coronavirus pandemic, other countries looked to Singapore for hope and guidance. The city-state seemed to suppress a spike in new infections, with only 266 cases by March 17. Now, near the end of May, Singapore has reported more than 32,000 cases of COVID-19.
This second outbreak is tied to the country’s migrant laborers, many of whom work in construction. They make up a majority of the recorded cases, likely because they tend to live in cramped housing where social distancing is impossible. In response to its surge in COVID-19 infections, Singapore enforced a lockdown in early April that is now extended to June.
After more than 75 days of extreme lockdown measures, China finally began reopening in late April and designated all regions in the country as low or medium risk. However, by May 10, a cluster of new infections were reported in Wuhan, the province where the pandemic originated, and Shulan, a city near the Russian border.
China’s national health commission reported 17 new cases on May 10, its second day of a double-digit rise. With these cases marking China’s highest number of infections in nearly two weeks, experts are concerned about the possibility of a larger second outbreak.
Chinese authorities responded by testing nearly seven million people in 12 days. About 200 asymptomatic cases were reported in this mass testing campaign as China sought to prevent a resurface of the pandemic at all costs.
What This Means For America
Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, believes these trends reflect the same pattern America will experience. “The virus is not going to disappear,” he said. “It’s a highly transmissible virus. At any given time, it’s some place or another. As long as that’s the case, there’s a risk of resurgence.”
Dr. Fauci and other experts have urged the U.S to prepare for a potential second outbreak in the fall. They fear new waves of infection triggered by economic reopening could overwhelm hospitals and ventilator capacity.
In upstate Monroe County, New York, for example, hospitalizations of COVID-19 patients rose 18 percent in the week after reopening efforts began.
Lauren Ancel Meyers, who directs the COVID-19 Modeling Consortium at the University of Texas at Austin, believes there will be a lag between the states’ reopening measures and the rise in coronavirus cases. “If the changes in behavior that started in May really did accelerate transmission, we will begin to see that in the case data, the hospitalization data, the death data,” she explained.