It’s the final information anybody desires to listen to: one 12 months after the United States was slammed with its first wave of COVID-19—which was adopted by even worse second and third waves—public well being consultants are fearful that the nation is headed for a fourth main spike. During a White House coronavirus briefing on Monday, Rochelle Walensky, the brand new director of the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, begged Americans to maintain following public well being pointers amid small however alarming upticks in instances, hospitalizations and deaths. “Right now, I’m scared,” she mentioned.
Other scientists monitoring the unfold of COVID-19 within the U.S. agree that there’s lots to be fearful about. Cases are rising within the Northeast, Midwest and elsewhere. At the identical time, many governors are enjoyable measures meant to restrict the unfold of the virus, reminiscent of masks mandates and caps on restaurant capability. Furthermore, as vaccinations proceed throughout the nation, some persons are getting extra cavalier about masks carrying and social distancing, regardless that most Americans nonetheless haven’t been inoculated. We’re additionally in the course of Passover and approaching Easter, and celebratory gatherings might end in additional unfold.
However, even when we’re within the early days of a fourth wave, there’s good cause to assume this one could be much less disastrous than the earlier three. Dr. Mark Roberts, director of the University of Pittsburgh’s Public Health Dynamics lab, factors to the comparatively small uptick in deaths as an indication that prioritizing high-risk folks for vaccination could also be leading to fewer fatalities at the same time as instances enhance (although deaths are a lagging indicator, so it might be too early to inform if that is actually the case). He provides that immunity from publicity amongst individuals who beforehand contracted the virus is probably going working along with mass vaccination to restrict viral unfold. Of course, if there’s one other wave, many individuals might get sick or worse regardless, and even a minor case of COVID-19 may end up in long-lasting complications.
It’s nonetheless too quickly to inform whether or not what we’re seeing within the knowledge will find yourself being a blip or a bomb, says Justin Lessler, an affiliate professor of epidemiology on the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. As Lessler factors out, the U.S. is in a race to vaccinate large numbers of individuals as shortly as doable earlier than extra contagious or lethal variants of the virus proliferate, and as states roll again mitigation measures. Unvaccinated folks could also be at particularly high risk over the approaching weeks, particularly as vaccinated folks start to renew extra regular lives, rising everybody’s temptation to throw warning to the wind no matter their inoculation standing.
“This is leading to huge uncertainty in how things are going to unfold in the coming weeks and months,” Lessler says. “I would be surprised if we don’t see at least one state with a significant resurgence, though I doubt it will happen everywhere.”
What does all this imply for you and me? A fourth surge in instances could also be imminent, however the toll of this spike may very well be blunted by mass vaccination—particularly as states throughout the nation proceed opening vaccine eligibility to broad swaths of the inhabitants. Either means, the general public well being steerage stays the identical. “If individuals and communities continue to exercise caution, we can prevent a major surge,” says Lauren Ancel Meyers, director of the University of Texas at Austin’s COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. “This means wearing face masks, taking sensible precautions—particularly around unvaccinated people—and isolating if we have symptoms or believe we may have been exposed to the virus.” While nobody particular person can cease COVID-19 from surging once more, you’ll be able to nonetheless take steps to guard your self and the folks round you.
This story initially appeared in The Coronavirus Brief, TIME’s each day COVID-19 publication. You can sign up here.