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Second coronavirus peak isn’t looking as deadly as the first. Yet.

Published Jul 10th, 2020 3:08PM EDT
Second coronavirus peak
Image: AP Photo/Wilfredo Lee
  • The second coronavirus peak won’t be as deadly as the first, according to researchers.
  • Over 130,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 to date, and the IHME projects 80,000 more will die by November 1st if we continue on our current trajectory.
  • By enacting a universal mask policy, the US could save tens of thousands of lives.

The United States has made a mess of its response to the novel coronavirus pandemic. When the virus first reached the US, the country was woefully unprepared, as illustrated by the horrific death count through April and May. Several states eventually righted the ship, including New York, which was once the epicenter of the entire pandemic, but there were others that began to roll back rules and restrictions before the outbreak had even reached them. Thus, a second spike crested in the United States before the first wave had subsided. But even as the infection rate continues to rise and hospitals across the country fill up, the death rate has remained remarkably low.

On Thursday, July 9th, the US reported just a hair under 60,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases — that’s a record number of cases in a single day. Cases have been spiking for about a month now, and yet, according to the latest figures, the death rate has been dropping at a steady clip throughout June and into July.

As noted by Business Insider earlier this week, the latest projections from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) indicate that this second spike won’t be as deadly as the first. There are many explanations for this, including increased testing capacity which leads to more confirmations of mild or asymptomatic cases, and the fact that the median age of those being infected has dropped significantly. Young, healthy individuals have been far less likely to exhibit serious symptoms or die from COVID-19 than the elderly.

For all of these reasons and more, the IHME model now projects that 208,255 Americans will have died of COVID-19 by November 1st. As of July 10th, 133,079 had succumbed to the disease. That’s the current trajectory, but by simply enacting a universal mask policy, it falls to around 160,000 deaths by the same date.

It’s also worth noting that cases are being detected far earlier than they were three months ago, and it can take days or weeks before an infected patient begins showing signs of the illness. With more knowledge, experience, and even potentially lifesaving drugs, doctors may be better equipped to treat COVID patients than they were in March or April, but if there’s nowhere to send sick patients, it’s only a matter of time before the death count starts rising. In fact, after bottoming out around 260 deaths on July 4th weekend, the death rate appears to be on the upswing.

“No one wants to say too early that deaths are not rising. That would really be a mistake,” Harvard’s Dr. Howard Koh told Business Insider. “If somebody is infected and then has the risk of getting sick and being hospitalized and dying — that whole trajectory takes a number of weeks, at least, maybe up to a month or more.”

Jacob Siegal
Jacob Siegal Associate Editor

Jacob Siegal is Associate Editor at BGR, having joined the news team in 2013. He has over a decade of professional writing and editing experience, and helps to lead our technology and entertainment product launch and movie release coverage.