What pandemic experts are predicting for the U.S. this winter

COVID-19 testing site in Miami Beach.

COVID-19 testing site in Miami Beach. CHANDAN KHANNA/AFP via Getty Images

As winter approaches, many Americans may be nervously recalling the COVID-19 surge of last year, and wondering whether we’re barrelling toward holidays-on-lockdown 2.0.

Scientists are considering the same questions, but reassuring that the U.S. is “definitely, without a doubt, hands-down in a better place this year,” as Boston University’s Dr. Nahid Bhadelia told The New York Times. Experts are cautioning Americans to remain vigilant in preventative measures, but also leaving room for optimism. Though another winter surge is “plausible,” writes the Times, the Delta-driven wave of coronavirus cases is likely winding down.

Another point that suggests this winter will lead the U.S. in the right direction is that government agencies are expected to soon approve a vaccine for children ages 5 to 11, which most parents say they’ll welcome gladly. Given all the progress that has been made in combating the pandemic, Stanford University’s Dr. Joshua Salomon told the Times, “it’s not likely that [this year] will be as deadly as the surge we had last winter, unless we get really unlucky with respect to a new variant.”

On the other hand, reports The Washington Post, doctors are also expecting a winter “twindemic” with spikes in both coronavirus infections and flu cases. “Americans have built up less natural immunity against influenza because so few were infected in 2020,” writes the Post. While this was a worry last winter, too, experts say it could be a larger concern this year since Americans are largely less locked-down now.

Another big question mark, reports Stat News, is whether immunity, especially among unvaccinated Americans, may fade and trigger new community-wide waves. While immunity from vaccines has held strong in the months since they rolled out across the U.S., researchers are keeping a close eye on possible subsiding protection levels. Among unvaccinated Americans, immunity following COVID-19 infection could wane, leading to second or third cases.

As Stat writes, “the crystal ball may be cloudy,” but the Times notes that “our behavior is, at least, under our control, and it remains a critical variable.”

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