Understand how we got here — and how to move forward.


May 27, 2020

What's next for America's Covid-19 epidemic? It could be a 'slow burn,' experts say.

Daily Briefing

    The United States may be entering a "slow burn" period of the Covid-19 epidemic as summer approaches, according to experts—though they warn the threat of a second peak still looms.

    New dates added: Your Thursday Covid-19 update

    US Covid-19 cases near 1.7M, death toll tops 98K

    U.S. officials as of Wednesday morning had reported 1,689,100 cases of Covid-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus—up from 1,670,100 cases as of Tuesday morning.

    According to a Reuters analysis of data from The COVID Tracking Project, more states last week reported an increase in their weekly rates of newly reported cases of Covid-19 when compared with the previous week. The analysis found that 20 states reported an uptick in their weekly rates of newly reported cases of Covid-19 in the week ending on May 24, up from 13 states in the week ending on May 17.

    For instance, the analysis found that the weekly rate of newly reported Covid-19 cases in Georgia, which was one of the first states to begin reopening nonessential businesses and easing social distancing measures intended to curb the new coronavirus' spread, increased by 21% over the previous week. According to Reuters, the increase marked a shift for Georgia, which had been reporting declines in its weekly rate of newly reported Covid-19 cases.

    Other states that saw spikes in their weekly rates of newly reported Covid-19 cases during the week ending on May 24 included Alabama, with an increase of 28% when compared with the previous week; Missouri, with an increase of 27%; and North Carolina, with an increase of 26%.

    As of Wednesday morning, officials had reported a total of 98,938 U.S. deaths linked to the new coronavirus—up from 98,191 deaths reported as of Tuesday morning.

    Experts say US could see a 'slow burn' of new Covid-19 cases

    Although the weekly rates of newly reported Covid-19 cases has accelerated in some states, most states saw declines, Reuters found.

    According to The Hill, experts say the country likely will enter a "slow burn" period through the summer, with the rates of newly reported cases of Covid-19 and related deaths slowly declining from the record highs that were reported over the past few months.

    Experts hope that warmer temperatures in the summer will lessen transmission of the new coronavirus, similarly to what occurs with the flu, though they're not yet sure whether there is a seasonal effect on the virus' transmission, The Hill reports.

    Former FDA Commissioner Scott Gottlieb during an interview on CBS' "Face The Nation" on Sunday said, "The virus is likely to continue to circulate. We're likely to have this slow burn through the summer and then face renewed risk in the fall that we're going to have bigger outbreaks and potentially epidemics in certain states and cities."

    William Schaffner, an infectious disease expert at Vanderbilt University, said, "Farther down the road we're all concerned about late fall and winter. That's where we anticipate a really substantial uptick in cases."

    However, some experts also note that, while the United States likely will see declines in its rates of newly reported Covid-19 cases and related deaths over the next few months, those drops probably won't be substantial.

    Ashish Jha, director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, said, "While the pace will slow down because we are doing some amount of social distancing and testing is ramping up, we're going to unfortunately see a lot more sickness and unfortunately a lot more deaths in the upcoming months."

    Experts say threat of a 2nd peak still looms

    Further, some experts warn that the United States could see a surge in new cases of Covid-19 and related deaths as nonessential businesses reopen and states ease social distancing policies intended to curb the new coronavirus' spread.

    On Tuesday, the World Health Organization (WHO) warned countries that scaling back such measures prematurely could spark a resurgence of Covid-19 cases sooner than expected.

    Mike Ryan, head of WHO's health emergencies program, said, "We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now that it's going to keep going down." He added, "The disease can jump up at any time."

    Experts raised particular concerns about another Covid-19 surge in the United States as photos and videos of crowded bars in Missouri, North Carolina, and Virginia over this past Memorial Day weekend began circulating on social media.

    Gottlieb said, "I am concerned that there are people who think this is the all clear, and I think what we really need to be doing is defining a new normal."

    Memo Cedeno Laurent, a research associate at the department of environmental health at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said Americans shouldn't let their guards down as states ease social distancing measures, because the virus can be transmitted anywhere people are in close proximity to each other without face masks, including outside (Canipe/Shumaker, Reuters, 5/26; Sullivan, The Hill, 5/26; Dennis et al., Washington Post, 5/26; Weixel, The Hill, 5/26; New York Times, 5/27).

    Have a Question?


    Ask our experts a question on any topic in health care by visiting our member portal, AskAdvisory.