The United States is facing perhaps its worst COVID-19 wave

As new cases are reported daily, numbers are surpassing those since the first outbreak


Photo courtesy of Unsplash

Chairs and tables stacked together inside restaurants, park play structures covered with caution tape and schools empty and deserted, void of screams and laughs. Wearing a mask has become a staple part of the routine and staying as far away from people has become second nature. That’s how life has been for the past seven months and 12 days, and though we all wish things would just return to normalcy, the chances of that grow slimmer as coronavirus cases once again begin to spike in states. 

While all states experienced a period of declines in cases in June and September, the U.S. is seeing a spike in numbers, surpassing those from the initial outbreak in March. As the pandemic continues to evolve and cities begin to reopen, a second wave has hit Europe where citizens are dying every 17 seconds, and now, the U.S. as well. 

Over the past months, states have seen their case numbers rise and fall, but the general pattern of cases continues to increase. Around April, when stay-at-home orders were set in nearly every state, the reproductive number of COVID-19 fell below 1. According to Rt COVID-19, a website tracking the reproduction numbers across the U.S., California’s Rt was at 1.23 on December 5.  

The reproductive number (R0), measures the impact of infection one person has. For example, if the R0 is 2, then one person can infect two others, leading those two others to then infect two more people, and so on. According to Healthline, the R0 of COVID-19 is a median of 5.7, meaning one person can infect five to six people. 

In the case of March and April, the R0 was fairly close to 1 and thus, was able to increase easily, spreading the virus and increasing case numbers, according to an NPR article. 

White House adviser and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Dr. Anthony Fauci said in an interview for the Washington Post that in order to measure when the first wave is over, cities and states will have to have achieved case numbers in the “low single digits.” Ventura County, for example, reached 10 cases per 100,00 residents in September. 

“Although some areas are reporting declining numbers of infections and deaths, localized outbreaks at … “superspreader” events — in which one infected person transmits the virus to many others at a gathering — continue to occur” Senior Director of Infection Prevention at The Johns Hopkins Health System, Lisa Lockerd Maragakis, wrote in an article

Since April, California and various other states have experienced an increase in COVID-19 numbers; California has experienced an average of 24,509 cases in the last 7 days and, around 62 per 100,000 people as of Dec. 9. Though states across the U.S. remain under quarantine, the premature opening of commonly visited areas such as malls, schools, and beaches have given way for a new surge of case numbers. 

In April, California Gov. Gavin Newsom presented a four-stage plan to reopen California, ending with the termination of the stay-at-home order. The state underwent the first two stages. However, a surge in infections caused Newsom to recant his statements and alter his plan. 

Graphic by Daisy Calderon/Talon

Marie Tae McDermott recently wrote in an article for the New York Times, “[Counties on thewatch list’] would have to be off the list for at least two weeks before their classrooms would be allowed to reopen, but the decision would still be up to local officials on whether to resume in-person classes, [according to Governor Newsom].” 

Following Newsom’s orders, Ventura County began to reopen. However, the first few days of July brought in a series of restrictions to try to slow the spread of the virus. Bars, restaurants and other similar businesses were able to open, but only with the option of outdoor seatings. High-risk areas such as gyms were asked to remain closed. 

“Due to our status with COVID-19 infections and our place on the State’s monitoring list, we are not currently approving waiver applications [for reopening schools]… We recognize the value of in-person education and during this time we will put efforts into setting up a system that takes into consideration the needs of children, their parents, equity and the public’s health,” Ventura County Public Health Officer and Medical Director Robert Levin said in a public health update on Aug. 7. 

Vargas goes on to mention the high hospitalization and test positivity rates and how unless there is a significant decrease in COVID-19 numbers, waiver applications will not be viewed.

Though case numbers began to decrease and Ventura County moved from the purple tier to the red tier, the county as well as California and the rest of the country are once again seeing a rise in numbers. With over 300 new cases in Ventura County, it is unclear if prior restrictions will once again be enforced or if high-risk businesses and schools will remain closed until further notice. 

As of right now, all Oak Park schools are undergoing distance learning, in which they virtually meet with their teachers using video meeting platforms, such as Google Meets, Zoom and more. The district has plans to return to campus in January with a hybrid learning model. Elementary students are scheduled to return on Jan. 5 while secondary students are to return on Jan 11. However, Superintendent Tony Knight recently sent a ParentSquare blast stating that due to current circumstances, it is “unlikely” that hybrid will happen by these dates. The district highlights detailed plans and safety measures on a Google Site page

Despite the fact that low COVID-19 numbers would have to exist for this model to be applied, infection is possible and the district has worked to create a plan should this happen. 

“We have some specific protocols that have to be followed if a staff person or a student is sick … we’ve shared [the guidelines] with all of our school site staff and parents as well,” Director of Curriculum and Instruction Jay Greenlinger said. 

Greenlinger states that there are two plans in place if anyone were to contract the virus during a hybrid model. The first would be to have the person tested and quarantined for the suggested amount, currently 14 days, and likewise, begin facilitating the contact tracing process to ensure that anyone in contact with said ill person is also cared for and treated.

While many leaders were looking to reopen their respective states and cities, a second wave has halted those plans. In June, experts were far more optimistic about preventing a second wave. In an article for The Guardian, for example, Elaine Nsoesie, assistant professor of global health at Boston University School of Public Health , stated that a second wave isn’t inevitable. Countries like New Zealand were used as an example of how, with proper guidelines, the spread of COVID-19 could be both limited and controlled. 

“You can avoid a second wave … Colorado public health folks had good messaging on how people [can adapt] their individual routines and be vigilant around moments of [potential] transmission,” David Rubin, director of PolicyLab at Children’s hospital of Philadelphia, said in the same The Guardian interview. “At the end of the day, it comes down to community norms and routines. If everyone is just trying to go back to normal and not face the inconveniences – like mask-wearing and avoiding large gatherings – then the risk for a second wave goes up.”

However, contrary to Nsoesie’s earlier statement, a recent spike in cases has indeed struck the United States with yet another wave. In fact, the rise in numbers has, for the most part, surpassed those from the first wave back in March. In order to combat this, experts are continuously updating the public on the ever-changing guidelines and restrictions. Ventura County, for example, is currently undergoing a stay-at-home order that closes bars, hair and nail salons and indoor and outdoor dining in restaurants. 

In following the parameters set by the CDC and individual public health departments, one can not only keep themselves and others safe but also reduce the number of infections. Eventually, through the cooperation of the people and distribution of the vaccine, the stay-at-home orders could be ended, allowing for the eventual complete reopening of the U.S.