US is a week away from 'rapid acceleration' of COVID-19 cases

A man in a coat and mask sitting on a bench waiting for public transport.
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The U.S. is bracing for a third wave of COVID-19 infections as it moves into the frigid winter months. The country is only about a week away from a "rapid acceleration" in COVID-19 cases, Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former commissioner of the Food and Drug Administration said on CNBC on Monday (Oct. 19). 

Coronavirus cases have increased in the U.S. by 36% in the past two weeks, with an average of 60,160 new cases per day over the past week, according to a New York Times analysis. Coronavirus case counts are going up in 45 states and hospitalizations are increasing in 42, Gottlieb said. "We're facing a tough circumstance right now," he said. "It's going to be a difficult fall and winter."

New waves of the virus have also taken hold elsewhere. In Europe, COVID-19 cases have been rising exponentially, and governments have once again resorted to lockdowns — some of these lockdowns are as strict as the ones put in place in the spring. Ireland will enact a six-week long nationwide shutdown starting tomorrow, according to NPR. Wales will enact a "firebreak" lockdown that will require everyone to remain at home for two weeks starting on Friday, according to CNN.

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The U.S. is about two or three weeks behind Europe in terms of an increase in cases, Gottlieb said. "So we're about a week away from starting to enter a period where we're going to see a rapid acceleration of cases and I think November and December are going to be tough months." Especially as the holidays approach, and people want to gather indoors to see their families, "we can't let our guard down," he added.

Public health experts have been saying since nearly the start of the pandemic that COVID-19 cases may worsen in the fall and winter months. One reason experts are worried is that as the weather cools, people will gather in close quarters inside, allowing the virus easily spread from person to person,  according to NBC12. And the dryer air that's common in the winter months might allow the virus to remain viable in the air for longer, Live Science previously reported. Of course, winter months also threaten to provide a double-whammy with the onset of the flu season, according to another Live Science report

The U.S. has now reported more than 8.2 million cases of COVID-19 and more than 221,400 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins dashboard. With the prospect of a potential coronavirus vaccine looming on the horizon, "we can look to happier days," Gottlieb said. "But these are going to be some tough months ahead of us."

Originally published on Live Science.

Yasemin Saplakoglu
Staff Writer

Yasemin is a staff writer at Live Science, covering health, neuroscience and biology. Her work has appeared in Scientific American, Science and the San Jose Mercury News. She has a bachelor's degree in biomedical engineering from the University of Connecticut and a graduate certificate in science communication from the University of California, Santa Cruz.