Expect a Massive Surge in COVID Cases After This Date, Experts Say

If previous holidays are any indication, Labor Day weekend could bring a new wave of cases with it.

The waning days of summer have brought mostly good news in the fight against the coronavirus. With newly reported cases on the decline across most of the country, many states are seeing their mitigation efforts start to have a positive effect. But some experts are beginning to raise the alarm that the pandemic is far from over, saying they expect there to be a massive surge in COVID cases after Labor Day weekend.

Many doctors and public health officials have expressed concern that the travel, gatherings, and family reunions that will likely take place over the popular holiday weekend will have far-reaching effects that will send numbers back in the wrong direction, CNN reports. Some also fear that a false sense of security brought on by falling COVID case counts and overall "pandemic fatigue" will lead people to fall short on safety precautions, such as wearing face masks and social distancing—especially among family members who've been separated for long stretches.

"I'm worried about Labor Day because people may have the impression that cases are coming down," Ali Mokdad, MD, epidemiologist and professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington, told CNN. "Despite the fact that COVID-19 is now the third leading cause of death, people still doubt that we have a problem."

group of young people gather at barbecue drinking wine with masks under their chins

Other experts pointed out that previous holidays were responsible for significant spikes in coronavirus cases. "July 4th and Memorial Day would tell you that we should be worried about Labor Day, and with schools opening, to me, it's a one, two punch," David Rubin, MD, director of PolicyLab at Children's Hospital of Philadelphia, told CNN.

Based on previous spikes that resulted from holiday weekends, researchers at the Colorado Department of Public Health & Environment were able to forecast different scenarios that could follow Labor Day weekend in terms of COVID cases in the state. By considering Colorado's current social distancing practice rate of 79 percent, scientists believe that a drop in safety protocols to 42 percent would create a surge in October. The estimate finds that this would be slightly less than the bump created by the July 4th holiday, but could also be exacerbated by children returning to school, as Rubin mentioned.

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But Colorado isn't experts' biggest concern; it's Midwestern states that are particularly on watch, especially as North Dakota, South Dakota, and Iowa are all seeing COVID spikes.

"We cannot afford to have this Labor Day weekend further accelerate the community spread, because if that happens, what comes next is going to be worse," Minnesota Health Commissioner Jan Malcolm told MPR News on Aug. 31. "For a while now, we feel we've been kind of walking on the edge of a cliff."

Still, some of the nation's top medical advisors believe passing the major hurdle that is Labor Day will be a test of the progress made, as well as a sign of what's to come. "If we get through this weekend … and we do what we're supposed to do, we're going to be in really good shape going into the fall," Admiral Brett Giroir, the White House's COVID testing czar, said on a Sept. 1 conference call. And for more on how to steer clear of coronavirus, check out Dr. Fauci Just Confirmed That This One Thing Kills Coronavirus.

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Zachary Mack
Zach is a freelance writer specializing in beer, wine, food, spirits, and travel. He is based in Manhattan. Read more
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