A Third COVID-19 Wave Across the U.S. – But Will New York Be Hit Again?


“Corona Virus Spreading Across City Concept. 3D Rendering Aerial View Miniature City Buildings” by maggie_talal is licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

Elisha V

For those of us in the WESS community who remained in New York City back in the Spring, eternal ambulance sirens in the background of our Zoom calls and the morbid rumors about refrigerator morgues and mass graves characterized our initial experience of COVID-19. The exponential case rates where New York quickly became the epicentre of the first wave has resulted in New Yorkers’ vigilant compliance with masks and distancing guidelines. By the end of May, New York cases were declining and some resemblance of pre-pandemic life was returning. Gov. Andrew Cuomo rolled out a phased reopening plan based on precise metrics in regards to things like hospitalizations, case positivity, and ICU bed capacities, now replaced by New York Forward, which aims to track and eliminate “micro-clusters”. This scientifically-backed plan has been extremely effective at reopening the economy safely; we even have schools, indoor dining, and gyms open now. Other states,and of course the federal government, have not had nearly as robust a reopening plan as New York, which is possibly due to the shell shock that New Yorkers faced early on. The fact that New York was the first state to mandate masks on April 17 shows how our state has taken the lead in issuing the necessary steps to control the spread of COVID-19.


While hotspots in the northeast declined, the summer saw a resurgence of cases, with daily record highs up to 73,000 cases, particularly in the Sun Belt south, despite earlier notions that the warmer weather would slow the spread and kill off the virus. A new spike, this one larger than the previous, has shifted to hit the midwest the hardest, with 100,000 daily cases recorded for the first time this Wednesday. In the coming weeks, the CDC predicts that “310,000 to 710,000 new cases will likely be reported during the week ending November 21, 2020”. 


Although many NYC industries have been battered by the virus, particularly entertainment and travel, the city has rebounded in other ways. In the summer, the streets were filled with outdoor dining and the NYCDOE was the only major public school system in the country to offer in-person classes, no mean feat for a system that serves over one million students across the five boroughs. In the past few weeks, small clusters of cases have emerged in parts of Brooklyn and Queens, but the new strategy of targeting local hotspots and issuing local lockdowns has seemed to dim the virus before it can spread to other parts of the city. 


As we head into winter, people will inevitably gather inside more, and in combination with the regular seasonal flu, we could see a second wave here in NYC. Hopefully, with continued social distancing, increased knowledge about the virus, substantial PPE supplies, and our widespread test and trace infrastructure, our city will spare another devastating scenario. Ultimately, it’s largely up to individual citizens to mask up and comply with safety regulations. With Thanksgiving and Christmas right around the corner, cases could spike again as people travel and gather with other households, something we saw with other holiday weekends in recent months. However, expecting out of state travellers to import cases to New York, Cuomo recently reformed the quarantine guidelines. Now, anyone leaving and entering the state will need to get tested 3 days before and after the trip, and quarantine for those three while awaiting test results. 


This new spike in cases emphasizes something which has been clear since the beginning of this crisis: the US needs a national plan to advise states on lockdown and social distancing procedures, provide substantial aid and PPE, and most importantly, a leader who will actually acknowledge the severity of the virus and the dark months to come.