by Aylin Woodward and Ruobing Su

This pandemic won’t end until a majority of the human population becomes immune to the virus — that is almost a certainty — but how it will spread and the way case numbers might rise and fall over time are less clear.

In a report published last week, researchers at the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy (CIDRAP) laid out three scenarios for what the next 18 to 24 months might look like.

The projections apply to the temperate Northern Hemisphere, which includes the US, though the study authors said “similar patterns could occur in the in global south.”

The worst-case scenario of the three involves a second, larger wave of infections this fall and winter. The researchers suggested this is the most likely outcome and said states should prepare for it.

“This thing’s not going to stop until it infects 60% to 70% of people,” Michael Osterholm, a report author and the director of CIDRAP, told CNN. “The idea that this is going to be done soon defies microbiology.”

coronavirus wuhanPeople arrive at Hankou Railway Station in Wuhan, China, to take one of the first trains leaving the city on April 8, 2020. Noel Celis/AFP via Getty Image

Here are three charts that show what future waves of COVID-19 cases could look like.

Scenario 1: Repeating, smaller waves of infections 

In this scenario, the first COVID-19 wave, which is happening right now, would be followed by a series of smaller waves throughout the summer and beyond. Those waves would bring a lower number of infections than the US and other countries are currently experiencing. However, they would persist over the next 18 to 24 months (before gradually diminishing). 

possible pandemic wave scenario 1

The authors noted that the geographic areas in which these subsequent waves would grow depends on the measures various places put in place to encourage social distancing, and how those restrictions eventually get rolled back. 

Scenario 2: A second, larger wave of infections this fall

The worst — and most likely — of the three scenarios is one in which the first wave is followed by a larger wave in the fall or early winter. After that would come one or more smaller subsequent waves in 2021.

possible pandemic wave scenario 4x3 copy

This mirrors what happened during the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic and the 2009 H1N1 flu.

A second wave of infections with an even higher peak would require US states (and other countries in the Northern Hemisphere) to reinstitute mitigation measures like lockdowns, the authors wrote. 

“States, territories, and tribal health authorities should plan for the worst-case scenario,” they added.

Scenario 3: A ‘slow burn’ of ongoing transmission

The final scenario suggests that this first wave of coronavirus infections is the biggest we’d see. In the coming months, the COVID-19 pandemic would shift into a “slow burn” of ongoing transmission and new cases.

possible pandemic wave scenario 3

“While this third pattern was not seen with past influenza pandemics, it remains a possibility for COVID-19,” the experts reported.

This possibility would mean that states likely wouldn’t need to lock down again, although we’d still see many more cases and deaths.

‘There is no crystal ball’

Osterholm and his colleagues’ conclusions are based on an examination of multiple models that predict future coronavirus impacts, as well as research about how COVID-19 spreads and data from past pandemics.

The coronavirus outbreak shares important similarities with an influenza pandemic, like the 1918 Spanish flu (which infected 500 million people worldwide). Both viruses spread via droplets people emit when coughing or sneezing and can be transmitted even when infected people show no symptoms. That makes this type of flu a solid model for comparison, but experts still aren’t sure what to expect from the coronavirus.

That’s because this new virus spreads more easily than the flu does. An average person with the coronavirus infects between 2 and 2.5 new people, a metric known as the R0 value. Seasonal influenza’s Ro value, by contrast, is about 1.3.

“There is no crystal ball to tell us what the future holds and what the ‘end game’ for controlling this pandemic will be,” the report authors wrote.

coronavirus vaccine trial participant clinical
A pharmacist gives Jennifer Haller the first shot in a clinical trial of a potential vaccine for COVID-19 on March 16, 2020, at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute in Seattle. 

Of course, the report’s three scenarios would change if a vaccine is developed more quickly than expected. But the authors noted that a vaccine probably won’t become available for a long time — the earliest it’s expected is in 2021. 

“We don’t know what kinds of challenges could arise during vaccine development that could delay the timeline,” they added.

2 thoughts on “3 Charts predicting future waves of coronavirus cases show why we should worry about September”
  1. “They caught more than beads at The Mardi Gras”!!! A Solar Vortex in May? Hmmm…

    LBRC- 1st Truth, Then…- Some 1st Class Deceits?
    Everybody knows now aka “The World just like when it laughed at #45”? Negroes have proven to be “The Most Vulnerable” to Covid- 19 aka “The Numbers are exceptionally “skewed” and disparate!

    1. Whenever Negro Representatives finally show at Radio/TV, Deception Artists say? Today we are
    visited by “The Greatest Since Sliced Bread, A True Public Servant, one who is
    working hard in and on your behalf and in ‘Yo interest and yada…! Question? Where are
    “The Black Negro Caucuses “NOW”? The new song says- “Have you seen
    them”? Did we miss The Press Conference? When Covid hit uptown, “Stevie aka
    “David Duke Lite” sent in The CDC, huh…? Where are your updates and plan to mitigate
    skewed results Cedric? Just ‘askin? When Grand Aisle was impacted by
    “Horizon”, you couldn’t wait to visit with Stevie and Mitch, even when a
    “Black Female” was being “Spat Upon” for doing her job to mitigate
    “Environmental Impacts” to their side of the tracks! What about what we say isn’t Truth?

    2. btw- Plagues in Egypt spanned at least 3 1/2 years, according to so- called “Lost
    Books”!!! How long has #45 been in office now? Hmmm…, curious???

    a. Fools continue to temp The Most High! He has revealed and exposed Satan’s plans and
    works in admonishment!!! Just like with Gomorrah and in Egypt- “They are still
    partying, marrying, given to strong drink/Dope and ‘Feel Good’, Give us back our Festivals- Jazz, Mardi Gras in Season and out of it”?

    b. NewsFlash- Before The Word of The Most High Passes, “You Will” plus Heaven
    and Earth!!! Those with eyes see and ears hear!!! Proverbs- “Just as a Dog (aka
    ‘Dawg in Ebonics) returns to his vomit, so does a Fool returns to his Folly”!

    3. btw- Don’t shoot the messenger, some might call us and all “Rote” and you’re
    right on a certain other level- He told us in Enoch, the Sun would rise in The East and
    He’d give us “Seasons”, He gave us “Harmonic Motion” aka a principle
    in Physics and “The String Theory”! He introduced “Multi- Dimensional” aka CERN! He told us what He does when He Decides to be Foolish is Wiser than man and On and On…!!! What is Divine Rote?

    a. Ans. Evidence based and can’t and “Never” will be contradicted (Hasn’t been
    snice so- called “Time” began (And btw- In Physics, we have The Algorithm
    whereby “Time” actually slows down with “Altitude” using the assistance of Atomic Clocks, Google NOVA)! Uh oh!!! Not even Science contradicts, unlike “Dr. Fool Chi and Dr. Lie Birther”, #45 just ‘luvs “Birthers, especially of lies, The Satanic”!!!

    b. Liars and Deceivers acquiesce too and Flatter other Filthy Lucre Bag Chasing Liars
    and Deceivers, because Satan is “their” Chief HNIC and other!!! Who do they
    dupe? Not us, maybe you, but Certainly not The Most High!!! All The Peacocks today!!!

    c. These so- called Peacocks you call “Public Servants” wear Lip Stick and a
    Disguise including “Painted Wings”, akin to doing the same with Pigs and
    expecting them to fly ‘Lookin good in your warped views! Maybe so, like Castles in The Sky
    you’ve moved into with the assist of an intangible U- Haul…? You got it ‘goin on? Yeah

    b. Like the song says- “As Time Goes By” for those still alive? Our Prayer?
    Most High, they still mock! Assist “All” willing to submit to Discern? ‘Dat
    which is of man, which is You! You have Rewarded us with o sorrow, all other
    “(r)ewards” are temporal!!! You never turned your back on ‘Dem, until they
    turned theirs on YOU!!!

    Abba Father, We THANK YOU!!! Pride goes before Fall! Satan begged after his and You said
    no! Assist us to destroy and remove our prides, especially to be seen of others! We
    resent and abhor Peacocks!!! Peace and Obedience…

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