A coronavirus second wave? Experts say it’s too early to tell

The 1918 influenza pandemic came in at least three waves, but that’s not necessarily a template for how the coronavirus pandemic will play out.

June 24, 2020 and
Category: Fact-Checking

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As Americans continue to grapple with the novel coronavirus, one question is on a lot of people’s minds: Are we already seeing, or will we eventually see, a second wave of the virus?

On June 16, Vice President Mike Pence penned an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal headlined, “There Isn’t a Coronavirus ‘Second Wave,’” in which he said the country was better off than media reports suggested.

Yet the same day, in an interview with the same newspaper, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the top federal infectious disease expert, threw cold water on Pence’s assertion by warning of a possible resurgence.

“People keep talking about a second wave,” Fauci said. “We’re still in a first wave.”

Defining a coronavirus “wave” is somewhat more art than science, but other scientists looking at the number of new daily infections echo Fauci’s caution.

The number of new daily infections in the U.S. fell by only about one-third between its peak in early March and its most recent low point in early June. And since then, the data shows an upward spike, approaching where it stood at that peak.

PolitiFact spoke with experts and came away with three big takeaways:

  • The U.S. is arguably still in the first wave of the coronavirus pandemic, so it may be too early to talk about a coming second wave. 🌊
  • The 1918 influenza pandemic came in at least three waves, but that’s not necessarily a template for how the coronavirus pandemic will play out. 🧐
  • The biggest risk for kicking off a new wave — whether it’s the second wave or simply an uptick in the first wave — is a relaxing of social distancing measures. 😷

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Alex Mahadevan is a senior multimedia reporter at MediaWise. He can be reached at amahadevan@poynter.org or on Twitter at @AlexMahadevan. Follow MediaWise on TikTok.

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