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COVID-19 cases are rising in much of the United States, but experts say they don’t expect widespread lockdowns like in the spring. Getty Images
  • Experts say it’s unlikely there will be a second lockdown in the United States no matter how high COVID-19 cases climb this fall and winter.
  • They say the country as a whole doesn’t appear to have the political and economic willpower to sustain such an effort.
  • They say if lockdowns do occur, they will vary from state to state and even city to city.

Europe is in the midst of its second wave of COVID-19 with some countries hitting higher numbers of daily cases than they did during their first wave last spring.

Meanwhile, experts in the United States, including the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases director Dr. Anthony Fauci, say the United States is still in its first wave of the pandemic.

In March and April, many states were averaging about 32,000 new COVID-19 cases per day.

In July, daily COVID-19 cases hit nearly 68,000, according to Johns Hopkins University & Medicine’s Coronavirus Resource Center.

The current national rolling average of COVID-19 cases is more than 40,000 daily — short of the July peak, but higher than the number of cases during the first lockdowns in spring.

Experts say the numbers already warrant another lockdown, but circumstances have changed since April in terms of politics, economics, and science.

“It is not really a political calculation. Protecting the ability of our hospitals to handle viral surges was a major component of many stay-at-home orders,” Heather Meade, a healthcare policy advisor and principal Washington Council for Ernst and Young, told Healthline.

“That said, there does not seem to be any appetite from governors, the administration, or Congress to encourage a second wave of stay-at-home orders if we can continue to take alternate measures to curb the spread, such as encouraging mask wearing, social distancing, and other public health actions,” Meade said.

Dr. Daniel B. Fagbuyi, an emergency physician in Washington, D.C., and Obama administration biodefense and public health advisor, was more blunt in his assessment.

“I don’t believe there will be a second lockdown,” he told Healthline. “America does not have the willpower or the leadership to withstand another shutdown or more economic devastation.”

He continued, “Lives and livelihoods are being lost and the government has not been able to agree on the fundamentals that science does not equal politics, masks save lives, racial disparities exist and are a public health emergency, and that the U.S. government needs to bail out the masses (middle class, small business, and those experiencing economic hardship) with funds during this economic and medical crisis.”

Put together, that makes another lockdown similar to what happened in spring unlikely.

In addition, responses from state to state or even city to city would be uneven.

Experts say the first series of lockdowns and stay-at-home orders may have prevented as many as 60 million cases of COVID-19, as well as thousands of deaths from occurring in the United States.

But the United States was never under a national stay-at-home decree and some states, such as South Dakota, never issued statewide guidance on quarantines, gatherings of certain numbers of people, or other public health recommendations made by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Therefore, however the case numbers increase, a second lockdown will likely reflect the patchwork response of the first lockdown, only even more so.

“The U.S. is too large a geographic polity to talk about a single country-wide lockdown. A better comparison would be to the whole of the European Union. And the [Trump] administration doesn’t have a national plan that can help articulate state and municipal response plans,” said Dr. Farley Cleghorn, leader of Health Practice at Palladium and a global health expert with more than 30 years experience as an epidemiologist.

“The appetite for shutting down the entire country is simply not there, and a lack of real borders between states and regions means a hodgepodge of regulations governing travel between states and requirements for infection control,” Cleghorn told Healthline.

“What would work best is more timely testing results, improved state-sponsored contact tracing and isolation, and a more flexible approach to lockdowns at the state level,” he said.

COVID-19 case numbers are above those during the first lockdown but not all in the same places.

For instance, outbreaks of the pandemic have now shifted to the Midwest and more rural areas, as experts predicted in August they would.

That could necessitate that these states enact stricter lockdown measures such as those seen in New York and California earlier in the pandemic, although whether they will — as most are currently in a phase of reopening — remains to be seen.

One benefit that governments have at this point in the pandemic is better data and modeling work in determining the right measures to curb outbreaks and surges, said Richard Gannotta, a senior lecturer of health administration at New York University’s Robert F. Wagner Graduate School of Public Service and the chief healthcare administrative officer at Masimo.

“A second lockdown would most likely incorporate the same measures initially put in place and to a great extent currently deployed, (screening, social distancing, masks, and testing),” Gannotta told Healthline.

“To enhance effectiveness, revisiting the last 6 months of data and applying those guidelines or measures which have been most effective would be a reasonable approach,” he said.

Cleghorn agreed.

“An effective lockdown would need regional clusters of states with the greatest numbers of new infections coordinating to implement measures to slow transmission,” he said. “We’d need an emphasis on test availability and result turnaround, and agreed isolation and quarantine planning with individual and family support.”

“It would also require greater than 60 to 70 percent uptake of non-pharmaceutical interventions — masking, physical distancing, and avoidance of indoor gatherings,” Cleghorn added.

“Post-election, without controversial results, the country and states would need to agree on coordinated, hard measures to interrupt the epidemic,” Cleghorn said.