The new coronavirus is flouting seasonal patterns and proving more resilient than similar pathogens, global health officials warned Monday, forcing countries to grapple with flare-ups and fine-tune their response several months into the pandemic.
“What it has clearly demonstrated is: You take the pressure off the virus, the virus bounces back,” said Mike Ryan, director of the World Health Organization’s emergency program.
He outlined the stakes as the pesky virus threatened to postpone a sacred rite in the U.S. heartland — the Big Ten Conference football season— prompting an outcry from congressional Republicans and President Trump, who said student-athletes had been working too hard for their season to be canceled.
“Play College Football!” he tweeted.
Across the pond, France mandated masks in crowded outdoor spaces, as Europe grapples with its own flare-ups despite tamping down the virus last spring.
Coronaviruses tend to act seasonally, with greater transmission in the cold, drier months as viral droplets linger in the air. Mr. Trump once hoped the virus would “miraculously” burn off by April. Instead, the new virus is blanketing the U.S. and other parts of the world deep into August, with no respite in sight.
“It hasn’t gone away,” said Maria Van Kerkhove, the WHO’s technical leader on the COVID-19 pandemic. “There is no indication that there is seasonality with this virus. The virus is still circulating. We know that the majority of the population still remains susceptible to infection, so we have to do everything that we can to prevent infections and save lives, so do it all.”
Some European nations are imposing new rules to keep the virus at bay. Besides new restrictions in French cities, Greece announced new restrictions on concerts and other gathering and said travelers from Belgium, the Czech Republic, the Netherlands, Spain and Sweden must present a negative test for the virus, starting Aug. 17.
Dr. Ryan said there’s been progress on the continent but setbacks are inevitable.
“Countries in Europe deserve a lot of credit for the work they did and particularly their populations did to suppress the virus. But it’s not suppressed throughout all of Europe, and there are significant issues still with transmission in parts of central and southern Europe that still remain to be fully under control,” he said.
“Countries in western Europe, in general, have suppressed the majority of virus transmission and are now seeing flareups of that disease. The trick for them now is to really focus on identifying those clusters of disease. Identifying any new community transmission and putting in place the kind of localized measures that can contain the virus, suppress the virus and reduce exposure.”
In the U.S., Mr. Trump said the Sun Belt is looking better but his administration is monitoring the situation in Boston, Chicago and the Midwest.
Mr. Trump has pointed to flare-ups in other countries as he defends his response, saying his administration is not alone in its struggles with the pesky virus. He said lockdowns are too harmful and that a program of social distancing and protecting the vulnerable, while scientists develop therapies and a vaccine, are the right approach for the U.S.
“We urge all Americans to apply common-sense mitigation,” Mr. Trump said. “Everybody knows it by heart now.”
Critics say the magnitude of the U.S. problem is different, however, than in many other nations, particularly in terms of deaths per capita. More than 163,000 people have died of COVID-19 nationwide, meaning the U.S. accounts for over one-fifth of global coronavirus deaths despite having 4.25% of the world’s population.
The U.S. recently surpassed 5 million infections, meaning it accounts for about a fourth of known cases around the world.
In a new report, the Academy of Pediatrics and the Children’s Hospital Association said nearly 340,000 children in the United States have tested positive for coronavirus, including 97,000 in the last two weeks of July alone.
Mr. Trump said that doesn’t give him pause about reopening schools this fall, saying children represent a “tiny fraction of death” from the disease and tend get better very quickly.
“I think schools have to open. We want to get our economy going,” he said.Fear of the virus’s spread is forcing major collegiate conferences to decide whether the football season is worth it.
Rep. Jim Jordan, Ohio Republican, made his opinion clear, tweeting: “America needs college football.”
Sen. Ben Sasse, Nebraska Republican, said quarterbacks Trevor Lawrence of Clemson and Justin Fields of Ohio State are right to suggest the season provides a better environment for young men than canceling the season.
“The structure and discipline of football programs is very likely safer than what the lived experience of 18- to 22-year-olds will be if there isn’t a season,” Mr. Sasse, the former president of Midland University, said in a letter to Big Ten presidents and chancellors. “As a former college president, I know many of you actually agree — because I’ve heard multiple presidents say it when the cameras aren’t rolling.”