There has been considerable reporting about a second wave of the Wuhan coronavirus in Europe. The reporting reflects increases, often significant ones, in new reported cases in many European countries.
However, so far and for the most part, the number of new reported cases is much lower than it was in the early Spring, even though there is probably more testing going on now. And the increase in the number of deaths attributed to the virus so far is very small.
Belgium was probably the European nation hit hardest by the first wave of the virus. By June, the number of new reported cases there was negligible and virtually no one was dying from the virus. (All numbers used in this post are from Worldometer.)
Now, the number of new reported cases in Belgium is up to almost two-thirds of what it was at the peak in April. This has been true for a month. Yet, virtually no one is dying as a result. There’s a good chance that this will change, but if the second wave were as deadly as the first, I think we would already be seeing an increase in deaths.
The pattern in the UK is very much the same as in Belgium. It was also hit hard in the Spring, saw cases diminish sharply in mid-Summer, and for the past month is reporting about two-thirds of the peak number. Yet, virtually no deaths are being attributed to the virus.
Spain’s second wave came earlier, beginning in July. At the end of August, new reported cases were back to the Spring level.
Spain has seen an uptick in the number of new deaths attributed to the coronavirus. However, the number is almost always fewer than 100 a day. In April, the number typically ranged from 750 to 900.
The story is similar throughout Europe. Last Wednesday, the entire continent reported only 252 deaths from the virus. In the Spring, that would have been a very good day in Spain and Italy. (It would still be a very good day in the U.S.)
Israel is seeing deaths attributed to the virus rise to levels higher than its Spring peak. However, Israel is a special case. Arguably, it never had a first wave of the virus, and certainly not a serious one. Reported cases, never reached 1,000 per day in the Spring. These days, they routinely exceed 3,000.
If the second wave of the virus in Europe is proving to be much less deadly than the first, why is that so? For one thing, those infected in the second wave are probably younger than those who were infected in the first. For another, treatment has probably improved. In addition, the various European countries may be doing better at finding asymptomatic patients and isolating them.
Finally, it’s also possible that the virus currently circulating in Europe is simply less deadly than the virus that was infecting people six months ago. The virus may have mutated.
What about the United States? We, too, are now seeing a younger infected population now, and we have better treatments and more testing of the asymptomatic than in the Spring.
Arguably, though, as a nation we’re still in our first wave. New reported cases never dropped off here the way they did in Europe. Daily deaths attributed to the virus did decline significantly in June, but spiked in August, and have declined slowly the past few weeks.
I think it’s more useful, for purposes of discussing second waves in the U.S., to look at particular states. New York and New Jersey had horrible first waves of the virus in the Spring. So far, neither has had a second wave, perhaps because, for better or for worse, both continue to impose stringent restrictions on a range of activities.
Texas and Florida had their first waves in the Summer. These waves are gradually receding.
Washington State can perhaps be said to have had a first and a second wave. The first wave, at the end of March and the beginning of April, saw daily reported cases of about 500 per day and, in late April, about 30 deaths per day attributed to the virus.
By late May, new reported cases were at only around 250 per day despite extensive testing, and throughout June the death count was steady at around 10 per day.
In July, new reported cases spiked to around 1,000 per day — basically double the number during the first wave. At the beginning of August, the death count briefly returned to its first wave level, before dropping off sharply by the start of September.
If we treat Washington as having two waves, the second appears to have been somewhat less deadly than the first, but far more deadly compared to the first than the European second waves have been. But the virus never receded in Washington to the same degree as it did in the European nations discussed above.
The U.S. as a whole has not followed European patterns. It may be that the strand of the virus in this country differs materially from the one that afflicted Europe. Thus, we cannot be confident that second waves in the U.S. will resemble those in Europe.