Here's When You're No Longer at Risk of Getting COVID, Harvard Doctor Says

Until we get to this point, public health expert says we should consider ourselves "always at risk."

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When discussing how the coronavirus has progressed and evolved in the United States, the terms "first wave" and "second wave" are often used in an effort to identify where we are at in the course of the crisis. Has the first wave broken and rolled back already? Is the second wave approaching or are we already in the midst of it cresting? Will there be a third wave? These are some of the questions government officials and health experts often find themselves facing from media, as well as the general public. And while using waves as a means of differentiating the various stages or phases of the pandemic—and how they inform the degree to which you're at risk of getting COVID—is an effective approach in theory, one public health expert says it becomes far less so in practice. In fact, during a call with press on July 29, Sarah Fortune, MD, a John LaPorte Given Professor of Immunology and Infectious Diseases and chair of the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said that the terminology doesn't really apply to the situation in the U.S. and is easily misconstrued.

"I do not like this first wave/second wave language because I think it suggests to people a certain coordinated behavior of the epidemic, which implies you can relax," Fortune said on the call in response to a question from The New York Times. "The way it's playing out in the U.S. is very local." Fortune added that using these terms implies that once the country has been through a first wave and second wave of the epidemic that means we are now "somehow free," which she says "isn't super accurate."

map of usa with covid outbreak showing positivity
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That's because different areas of the country—whether it be at the regional, state, or local community level—are experiencing outbreaks that vary in terms of severity, as well as from a chronological perspective. Instead of a nationwide first wave, we first saw initial isolated outbreaks in places like New York, Massachusetts, and New Jersey, and then, most recently, a wave in the American south.

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"What we are having are are little waves everywhere, which are communities going through truncated first waves," Fortune explained to Best Life on the press call. "That's looking like oscillating wavelength behavior." She again expressed her issue with using wave terminology, adding, "I don't love 'second wave.' Communities have to be aware that, at this point, we always have to keep vigilant."

What does that mean in terms of your risk of contracting coronavirus? "We should consider ourselves always at risk until we have herd immunity or a vaccine," Fortune said. And if you want to know how you might be exposed to the virus, You're More Likely to Get COVID Through the Air Than This Way, Doctor Says.

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