Here's When a Third Wave of Coronavirus Could Hit, Doctors Say

Per a survey, 45 percent of healthcare workers think we'll still be fighting COVID-19 in 2021.

It's tempting to take falling numbers of active coronavirus cases in certain parts of the world as evidence that we'll soon be out of the woods. But throughout the pandemic, infectious disease experts have been warning about coming waves of COVID-19, which could be even more deadly than the first. At this stage, it's almost a foregone conclusion that a second wave of coronavirus will hit in the fall, especially in places where lockdown restrictions have been lifted and social distancing isn't being observed. But many healthcare workers don't believe that the fight will end there: 45 percent surveyed believe that there will be at least three waves, and 13 percent are predicting four or more. As for when the third wave of coronavirus will crest, these experts think we'll be riding it into 2021.

In three consecutive surveys of healthcare professionals conducted by Venrock, the majority of respondents—46 percent—said that they expected two waves of coronavirus, the second to come after the summer. Meanwhile, 32 percent predict three, which would continue into early next year. Only 9 percent thought that the pandemic would be quashed after a single wave.

In early May, on Howard Bauchner, MD's podcast Conversations with Dr. Bauchner (per the American Medical Association), Marc Lipsitch, DPhil, Harvard epidemiology professor and director of the Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, said that "fall will be very much like the spring" in terms of coronavirus numbers. He also pointed out that the population will "be tired of social distancing and other tactics," which will likely make this second wave worse. He predicted that it would peak in December.

A report from the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP), per Business Insider, plotted three possible scenarios for the next two years of the pandemic. The most likely of these involves a second and more serious wave in the fall and winter, followed by smaller waves that would eventually peter out.

Man in hazmat suit sanitizing school classroom
Shutterstock/Ververidis Vasilis

The timing for the third wave, however, is more difficult to predict until experts see how the disease spreads through the end of the year. Looking back on the 1918 influenza pandemic can provide some insight, as COVID-19 seems to be behaving in similar ways.

As History notes, this pandemic consisted of three waves. The first came to the U.S. in March 1918; the second wave occurred in the fall of that year and was the deadliest for Americans. The third spread globally throughout the winter and spring, beginning in January and finally ending in June 1919, approximately 16 months after the pandemic began.

Of course, there is no guarantee that COVID-19 will follow the same timeline. But experts are saying that the second wave alone will take us through the end of the year. If the third wave does arrive, it will begin in 2021. Yet another reminder that we'll be living with the coronavirus for months—and possibly years—to come. And for more facts about the disease, here's Why You Could Be Spreading Coronavirus Three Times Longer Than Others.

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