It’s time to face the facts: After weeks of seeing coronavirus numbers drop across the U.S., there’s now a new surge of cases taking place. And with experts saying that we’re still months—if not a full year—away from having a widely distributed vaccine, many are fearful that a tough winter could be in store. But what’s causing the new outbreaks? According to experts, the are actually two things that have COVID numbers rising again: a dangerous mutation and young people spreading it to the vulnerable.
Based on a new report from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the percentage of young people infected with the disease jumped above 20 percent for the first time late in the summer. The agency found that these younger patients are much more likely to mingle with others at social gatherings and to spread the disease. And that’s not just limited to college-aged crowds: A June spike of cases in people aged 20-39 was followed by a significant spike in new cases in people over 60 just four to 15 days later, the researchers concluded.
Additionally, the virus itself may also be to blame for the once-again rising COVID numbers. Genetic research has revealed a mutation of COVID-19 has made it more contagious than previous iterations of the virus, The Washington Post first reported.
Researchers are quick to point out that all viruses mutate, and that luckily the evidence so far does not show that the change has made COVID any more lethal for those who become infected. But some believe that this development could be the result of the coronavirus responding to existing health measures, such as social distancing.
“Wearing masks, washing our hands, all those things are barriers to transmissibility, or contagion, but as the virus becomes more contagious it statistically is better at getting around those barriers,” David Morens, a virologist at the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) and senior advisor to Anthony Fauci, MD, told The Washington Post. He added that these changes in the virus “may have implications for our ability to control it.”
As the number of new COVID cases has grown in more than half of U.S. states in the past week, some experts warn that the reopening of college campuses—in combination with this highly contagious strain of the virus—could collide at a catastrophic intersection. “We are seeing a pretty sharp uptick here in the United States,” Scott Gottlieb, MD, former U.S. Food and Drug Administration chief, told CNBC on Sept. 22. “I think that there is a real risk that we’re going to see rising cases heading towards the end of this year.”
Now, with flu season and winter holidays approaching, experts caution that the decisions made in the coming weeks could have dire consequences. “It’s unacceptable to not realize that we are entering into a risk period,” Fauci told CNN. “And we have to act accordingly as we enter into that risk period.” And for more on where the pandemic is surging again, check out These Are the States Where COVID Cases Are Skyrocketing.