The first half of 2020 has challenged the world in ways beyond what we expected. The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted every person, business and industry across the planet. We’ve been through a cycle of shutdowns and openings.
We’ve seen regulations about face masks and face coverings, hand washing and sanitizing. After months of missing loved ones, business closures, and redefining working from home, we have begun to see stages of opening again. However, there is a bit of a cloud hovering over these changes.
A “Second Wave” of COVID looms. But what is a second wave and how concerned should we be?
What Is a Second Wave?
A “second wave” is a medical term used specifically in a pandemic. It is characterized as the experience when a disease infects one part of the population first and then disappears before reinfecting another part of the population. It is this “second wave” of infections that act as the namesake for the phenomenon.
The Second Wave of the Spanish Flu
Many articles have been looking at the Spanish flu and its second wave to get an indication of what a second wave could possibly do. The Spanish flu, however, may not be a good prediction model for COVID-19. The Spanish flu was an influenza pandemic that spread, evolved and mutated differently than coronaviruses do.
Either way, the second wave of the Spanish flu happened like this: Cases had almost completely disappeared when the flu sprang back up, mutated to be more infectious and deadlier than before. Those who study pandemic and disease have said that without this mutation and second wave, the Spanish flu would have just been a small blip in history. It was this massive, deadly second wave that rocked it into history books.
The first, second and third waves of Spanish flu. Image borrowed from The Conversation.
Are We In a Second Wave of COVID-19?
This isn’t a simple question. The COVID pandemic has impacted different cities, states, countries and regions differently. There isn’t a singular global trend that is consistent across the world. The best answer to the question of if we’re in a second wave is, “It depends.”
Certain places around the world and even in the states could be argued to be in either a second wave or in the quiet time before a second wave could happen. Many others, however, are still deep in the first wave of COVID with an expectation of no real second wave. Instead, a surge in cases that simply push the first wave forward is predicted.
Graphy of the continual first wave of COVID in the USA. Image borrowed from Medical XPress.
Continuing the First Wave
For a second wave to truly happen, cases must decrease back to low numbers, or close to zero. Many places have not seen this level of dip happen, only seeing fluctuations where cases decrease before increasing again. This is why certain news articles have been referring to COVID-19 as “one big wave”. In the USA, predictions are that we are a long way off from a country-wide second wave but may be set up for another uptick and surge in cases. Election day seems to be the main consensus for when we can expect another boom in COVID cases. At Hopkins, they are referring to this as Surge 2.0.
That being said, some places have seen this decrease in number and are experiencing a true second wave. New Zealand for example went over 100 days without any cases of COVID that came from community contact. Then suddenly, four people tested positive for COVID with no history of international travel. This isn’t a second wave, per se, but it does indicate the delicate nature of fighting an illness like this. It’s a true example of the virus springing up in a place with no real reason to be there. It’s lying in wait.
Specific places in Canada, New York state, and other countries such as France, Germany and New Zealand are more set up for the traditional “second wave” scenario.
Tracking and Tracing the Spread of Coronavirus
When COVID first arrived in North America, it could be traced from person to person. One person arrived in Canada and in the USA with the virus and it spread from there. Isolation and lockdowns could be used to help prevent the spread.
An article from Johns Hopkins Medicine explains how a second wave is harder to predict, track and control. This is because a-symptomatic people (those that have the virus and don’t have symptoms) can spread the virus and that it can take two weeks for it to manifest itself as an actual illness. It’s almost impossible to track community transmission points of COVID-19 once it’s out into the population.
In general, second waves have a higher infection rate and are more deadly than the first wave. That is because of difficulty tracking, as explained above, but also because of the time the disease has to mutate. Overall, its harder to control than the initial spread. This higher infection and death rate is the main reason second waves are talked about with fear and uncertainty. However, only time will tell what will happen with COVID-19.
There are still many unknowns and predicting what will happen with the virus is almost impossible.
COVID-19 and the Winter Season
Northern states and Canada are also entering the winter season. No one can tell how this virus will interact with other seasonal flus. It’s impossible to predict if the cold weather will aid or inhibit the disease. There are a lot of unknowns.
The “First Wave” Of COVID on the Construction Industry
Construction was lucky in this pandemic in that a large portion of the industry was able to stay open while much of the world shut down. While the first half of 2020 caused major impacts in the industry’s profits, disrupted supply chains and threw off project timelines like never before, there is some hope that a second wave may not be as impactful to this industry.
One article in particular speculates that the patchy nature of COVID outbreaks may result in less national and international lockdowns. Local lockdowns may not impact the supply chain as much as was seen in the first half of the year. Additionally, construction is being considered an essential service more so than ever. It’s a huge contributor to the economy and has helped to keep communities moving during the pandemic. It may be even less likely than before that construction projects would shut down.
Why Should Construction Professionals Care About a Second Wave?
Despite optimistic predictions that such large closures won’t happen again, there are many reasons that a second wave could impact the industry. There is no guarantee that sites won’t shut down again or that supply chains won’t be disrupted. National lockdowns could happen again. A second wave could push back projects even more or cause those already on the fence on moving forward with a project to cancel all together.
A second wave and potential shutdown will also impact us all as humans. Like everyone else, construction workers have children and family members to take care of. Plus there’s the added stress of another boom in a global pandemic. Even if the industry isn’t overly impacted, the people within the industry would be.
Whether it’s a drop in cases with an upcoming boom, or another surge in current cases, the general consensus is that COVID is not in the past. We are not done with it yet and it’s important to keep this in mind. When the pandemic hit in early 2020 there was little warning. Everyone has already experienced how quickly things can move when responding to an emergency.
If a second wave is to come our way – however it may look – it’s important to take what we learned from the past few months and use it to prepare ourselves or our business.