What is causing the current surge in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations, especially given the explosive increases seen over the past weekend?
A third peak in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations has been ongoing for several weeks, in places like El Paso Tx. The reasons behind this gradual increase aren’t entirely clear but likely involve a number of factors including campus outbreaks, increased indoor meetings, and gatherings related to fall events like football games (the on-field celebrations after Notre Dame’s win over Clemson being the most dramatic example!).
However, a remarkable surge in infections across the nation seemed to occur over the past weekend, and while these infections were based in areas that have had increased activity for a while, the infection numbers and hospitalizations far exceeded what was seen in previous weeks.
This weekend surge has been attributed to everything from parties, a return to indoor dining and increased indoor group activities. However, given an incubation time of three to five days for COVID-19, the surge occurring at the end of this past week and over the weekend doesn’t correspond well to any of those explanations.
It potentially does relate to a super-spreader event that occurred last week. The event I’m referring to is the election on November 3rd and the subsequent social activities and celebrations that evening.
While the election went smoothly in most locations, there were substantial wait times to vote at most locations across the country. Despite social distancing and wearing masks, many of the people waiting to vote had risk factors for significant COVID-19 infections.
In addition, gatherings associated with the election results would seem to have been perfect events to spread the infection. Even in the White House a get-together to watch returns resulted in numerous people being infected, potentially from chief of staff Mark Meadows who was reportedly infected before the event.
If this surge is a one-time event from the election, infections may begin to decline over the next week. That would be very good news. However, public health authorities should examine how the surge evolved during this past week to better understand how SARS-CoV-2 spreads, and provide better infection control for future elections.