BOSTON — A Philadelphia epidemiologist tracking an uptick in coronavirus cases spreading north along the East Coast is warning New England and Mid-Atlantic residents a COVID-19 resurgence could be coming.
Researchers at PolicyLab at Children’s Hospital of Philadelphia have been mapping the country’s coronavirus cases by county and forecasting each area’s projected cases for the next four weeks. Experts have found a clear pattern of growth along the East Coast as summer travelers and vacationers venture north.
“We all know about what’s going on in Florida in the south,” Rubin said, referring to the current virus hot zone. “But we’ve been watching basically this wave sweep up the Mid-Atlantic and the East Coast. A couple weeks ago, we were talking about North Carolina and South Carolina, and then very quickly now Maryland and Virginia have been subsumed.”
That wave has reached Rubin’s city of Philadelphia, he said, prompting local leaders to shut down schools for the academic year ahead. Students will begin classes in the fall online only.
That could be Massachusetts’ fate, too, Rubin said, if the transmission rate continues its climb.
Rubin pointed to an uptick on Cape Cod. In Chatham, at least 13 people have tested positive after attending a house party with as many as 50 people. Eight Falmouth lifeguards also tested positive for the virus following another party.
Transmission rates are increasing not only due to travelers from the South, but also Massachusetts residents choosing low-risk local destinations, like Cape Cod and the islands, and packing beaches and gathering spots.
Compounding the problem is the return of college students to New England schools, Rubin said.
“We had thought that there was going to be a big surge in maybe October, November, but it looks like some of this wave is starting to come in now,” Rubin said. “There’s like a natural test going on because of the amount of infection that Boston and New York, in particular, had early in this epidemic. The real question is how could this next wave go if people don’t respond? Is there any herd immunity in the spring that has protected us from now? And I think in a natural experiment we may find out the answer to that question sooner than we had hoped.”
Massachusetts’ drastic measures to curb the spread, including closing businesses, limiting large gatherings, keeping physical distance and wearing masks, were successful in decreasing coronavirus cases, Rubin said. While Rubin doesn’t believe another shut-down is necessary, he urges New Englanders to continue taking precautions.
“It’s still early, but I think what happens is people get complacent, and they think, ‘Our positivity rates are down, we’re doing pretty well, we’re pretty safe,’” Rubin said. “They continue to relax more, when in actuality to preserve your school openings and all that you’ve achieved in the spring, now’s the time to try to prevent the wave from coming through.”
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