CDC director warns virus could come back stronger, deadlier in fall

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CDC director warns of second deadly wave of coronavirus Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)

‘We’re going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time’

The director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said he expects a second wave of the coronavirus to coincide with flu season and warned of the possibility for a much greater toll than the nation has witnessed thus far, according to an exclusive interview with The Washington Post.

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"There's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through," CDC Director Robert Redfield told the Post in the sit-down. "And when I've said this to others, they kind of put their head back, they don't understand what I mean," he said, adding: "We're going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time."

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Redfield's warning recalled the 1918 outbreak of Spanish flu in the U.S., where a brutal three-month second wave that hit in the fall accounted for most of the deaths during the entire outbreak.

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There were three different waves of illness during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, starting in March 1918 and subsiding by summer of 1919. The pandemic peaked in the U.S. during the second wave, in the fall of 1918. This highly fatal second wave was responsible for most of the U.S. deaths attributed to the pandemic, according to the CDC.

Credit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

There were three different waves of illness during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, starting in March 1918 and subsiding by summer of 1919. The pandemic peaked in the U.S. during the second wave, in the fall of 1918. This highly fatal second wave was responsible for most of the U.S. deaths attributed to the pandemic, according to the CDC.

Credit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Combined ShapeCaption
There were three different waves of illness during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, starting in March 1918 and subsiding by summer of 1919. The pandemic peaked in the U.S. during the second wave, in the fall of 1918. This highly fatal second wave was responsible for most of the U.S. deaths attributed to the pandemic, according to the CDC.

Credit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Credit: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention

Redfield, a virologist, expressed the most concern about the capacity of the nation’s health care system to handle simultaneous outbreaks in light of the severe shortages of diagnostic testing, ventilators, personal protective equipment and medical staffing seen in the current crisis.

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He advised federal and state officials to use the coming months to prepare for what could be on the horizon.

Restrictions being lifted

The interview with Redfield came as many states were beginning to announce plans to reopen businesses later this week, with some easing stay-at-home orders but also advising the public to adhere to social distancing guidelines, including wearing face masks.

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Redfield stressed the importance of more testing and tracing the interactions of people who test positive for the virus, which would quickly isolate them and head off a larger outbreak, the Post reported.

The Post asked Redfield how he felt about protests railing against stay-at-home orders, where demonstrators have skirted social distancing guidelines. Those restrictions were supposed to be in place nationwide until at least April 30 but were supplanted last week by a new White House plan for a gradual reopening of the country.

“It’s not helpful,” Redfield said.

Combined ShapeCaption
A woman holds a sign as she attends a rally outside the Missouri Capitol to protest stay-at-home orders put into place due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Several hundred people attended the rally to protest the restrictions and urge the reopening of businesses closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Credit: Jeff Roberson

A woman holds a sign as she attends a rally outside the Missouri Capitol to protest stay-at-home orders put into place due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Several hundred people attended the rally to protest the restrictions and urge the reopening of businesses closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Credit: Jeff Roberson

Combined ShapeCaption
A woman holds a sign as she attends a rally outside the Missouri Capitol to protest stay-at-home orders put into place due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Several hundred people attended the rally to protest the restrictions and urge the reopening of businesses closed in an effort to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Credit: Jeff Roberson

Credit: Jeff Roberson

Last weekend, President Donald Trump ignited demonstrations on Twitter, calling on his followers to “LIBERATE MINNESOTA!” and “LIBERATE MICHIGAN!” and “LIBERATE VIRGINIA! and save your great 2nd Amendment. It is under siege!”

New guidance, plans in works

The new guidelines from the White House have led to more diagnostic testing for asymptomatic cases in nursing homes in Nebraska, New Mexico, North Dakota and Tennessee, the Post reported. The CDC has also issued detailed guidance for state and local governments on easing social restrictions in a phased reopening.

The agency is planning to reassign about 500 staff to roles directly related to the coronavirus response and will hire at least 650 new experts to support public health workers around the country with contact tracing, he told the Post, adding that more personnel would be needed.

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The CDC is also considering the possibility of using Census Bureau workers and Peace Corps and AmeriCorps volunteers to build "an alternative workforce" for new testing and contact tracing, the Post reported.

“These are all discussions that are going on to try to determine what is the optimal strategy to be used,” he said. “And it may be some combination of all three.”

Redfield encouraged Americans to get flu shots in the fall, which could significantly lessen hospitalizations in the event of a bigger second wave and “may allow there to be a hospital bed available for your mother or grandmother that may get coronavirus,” the Post reported.

There were three different waves of illness during the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic, starting in March 1918 and subsiding by summer of 1919. The pandemic peaked in the U.S. during the second wave, in the fall of 1918. This highly fatal second wave was responsible for most of the U.S. deaths attributed to the pandemic, according to the CDC.