The latest mathematical COVID-19 model released by Harvard University researchers predicts that recurrent winter outbreaks will probably occur after the first, most severe pandemic wave; prolonged or intermittent physical distancing may be necessary into 2022; and a resurgence is possible as late as 2024. The report, published yesterday in Science, details how the researchers used estimates of seasonality, immunity, and cross-immunity of the HCoV-OC43 and HCoV-HKU1 human coronaviruses from US time series data to predict the likely course of the pandemic in temperate regions through 2025. Cross-immunity reduces the rate at which someone who recovered from infection caused by one pathogen may be infected by another. Predicting the likely pattern of the pandemic is important in projecting the required intensity, duration, and urgency of contact tracing, lockdowns, and physical distancing in the absence of effective drug treatments and a vaccine. The authors said that COVID-19 could—but is not likely to—behave like its closest relative, SARS-CoV-1, the virus that causes severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS), and be eradicated through strict public health measures after a brief, intense epidemic. Or it could behave like pandemic flu, circulating seasonally after causing an initial global wave of infection, similar to that of other human coronaviruses originating in animals.

 

Eneas De Troya from Mexico City, México [CC BY 2.0 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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