As Wuhan Tests Millions to Prevent Second Wave of Coronavirus, Doctors Warn U.S. Is Not Prepared

A second wave of novel coronavirus cases could hit the U.S. in the coming months, with health experts raising concerns the country is not ready to combat a new round of infections. The U.S. health care system is likely to be overwhelmed by the time the second wave arrives if sufficient medical supplies and other preparations are not in place, doctors warn.

The Chinese city of Wuhan, where the first-ever case of the virus was reported, has ramped up its testing in a bid to prevent a second wave of infections. On Saturday alone, 1,146,156 tests were conducted in Wuhan, which is home to around 11 million people. Between May 14 and 23, the city conducted 6,574,093 tests for the virus, the Wuhan Municipal Health Commission reports.

The number of tests done on Saturday in the city was more than 15 times the number reported on May 14, when a citywide campaign to test all those yet untested was launched.

As of Tuesday, around 4.4 percent (over 14.6 million) of America's population of nearly 330 million people have been tested, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

Last Sunday, Dr. Zhong Nanshan, an epidemiologist and senior medical adviser to the Chinese government who helped fight the SARS epidemic of 2002-2003, warned: "The majority of...Chinese at the moment are still susceptible to COVID-19 infection because [of] a lack of immunity. We are facing [a] big challenge, it's not better than the foreign countries I think at the moment."

Speaking to Newsweek, Dr. John Holdren, the former director of the White House Office of Science and Technology Policy during the Obama administration said: "President [Barack] Obama's Council of Advisors on Science and Technology alone produced six reports germane to pandemic preparedness over the period 2009-2016, and that is just a fraction of the available expert analysis on what adequate preparation would look like.

"The single most important step forward that needs to be taken at this time is for the Administration and the Congress to take seriously the advice of the experts and make the investments in the needed preparations for likely COVID-19 second wave," he added.

Many parts of the U.S. have begun reopening with eased lockdown measures but the World Health Organization (WHO) on Monday warned of an "immediate second peak" in infections if restrictions are lifted too soon even in countries where cases appear to be declining.

The executive director of the WHO's Health Emergencies Programme, Dr. Mike Ryan, said at an online briefing Monday: "When we speak about a second wave classically what we often mean is there will be a first wave of the disease by itself, and then it recurs months later. And that may be a reality for many countries in several months' time.

"But we need also to be cognizant of the fact that the disease can jump up at any time. We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now it is going to keep going down and we are [getting] a number of months to get ready for a second wave. We may get a second peak in this wave," he said.

Ryan warned infection rates could quickly rise again if restrictions to mitigate the first wave of infections are eased too soon.

Last week, an emergency physician and researcher at Brown University, Dr. Megan Ranney, told lawmakers at a U.S. congressional hearing: "I do not think that we are currently prepared for a second wave. We still lack adequate science. I'm so thankful for the funding that you all have given to the NIH [National Institutes of Health] and CDC [Center for Disease Control and Prevention], but that's not enough, and we need more."

The biggest concern highlighted by Ranney was the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE) for health workers.

"The PPE shortage continues in America and it will affect our country for months to come. Reopening will exacerbate the need for PPE: as restrictions are easing, and more institutions are opening their doors, more frontline workers need to be protected. We need the federal government to step up.

"We must ramp up domestic manufacturing, increase the stockpile available for distribution to states, enhance data on PPE and other supply needs, and ensure that PPE is distributed equitably to everyone who needs it," Ranney told the House Select Committee on the Coronavirus Crisis.

Last week, a team of scientists that worked as advisers to Obama warned in a letter (led by Holdren) distributed to senior officials of the Trump administration, members of Congress and other government officials that the country needs to start preparing now to avoid the "extraordinary shortage of supplies" seen in March and April, The Guardian reports.

"Preparation for a resurgence needs to be initiated now. It needs to be at a national level, in close collaboration and coordination with state and local officials," the letter said.

"The United States was unprepared for the supply needs of the spring 2020 COVID-19 pandemic. There has been a persistent shortage of ventilators, testing kits, masks and other PPE... in recent years the nation has let down its guard," the letter continued.

The nine scientists who authored the letter are former members of the Council of Advisors on Science and Technology formed by Obama.

The Trump administration has come under criticism by the former Obama advisers for failing to respond to the various studies that urged for the replenishment of the Strategic National Stockpile (SNS) in preparation for emergency situations such as the current pandemic.

From as early as April, both Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the COVID-19 task force, and Robert Redfield, the director of the CDC, warned the country needs to prepare for a second wave of cases.

Last week, Redfield noted that while he felt U.S. states were ready to reopen, he warned the nation needed to expand testing and contact tracing capabilities to combat a potential second wave of infections.

At the end of April, Fauci noted the second wave was "inevitable" and "if by that time we have put into place all of the countermeasures that you need to address this, we should do reasonably well."

"If we don't do that successfully, we could be in for a bad fall and a bad winter," he added.

He warned that if restrictions are eased too quickly, the second wave of the outbreak could "get us right back in the same boat that we were a few weeks ago," he said at the end of April.

Back in April, Redfield warned that the second wave may hit the country even harder than the first wave, coinciding with the start of the flu season, and see the country's health care system overwhelmed.

"There's a possibility that the assault of the virus on our nation next winter will actually be even more difficult than the one we just went through," Redfield told The Washington Post.

"We're going to have the flu epidemic and the coronavirus epidemic at the same time," he said.

Newsweek has contacted the White House, the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, the American Society for Clinical Pathology and the American Medical Association for comment.

protests at Huntington Beach, California, May 2020
An aerial view over a crowd of protesters calling to reopen businesses and beaches on May 1, 2020 in Huntington Beach, California. Getty Images

As the outbreak continues in the country, several states are resuming with their phased reopening plans. Some states have seen a spike in cases following the easing of restrictions.

North Carolina reported its highest single-day jump in cases as the state entered the second phase of its reopening. On Monday, the state also saw its highest number of hospitalizations since the outbreak began.

On Monday, Virginia also recorded its highest ever daily case count, about 10 days after a portion of the state entered the first stage of its reopening. The first phase permits restaurants to host outdoor dining at 50 percent capacity, while retail shops can also open at 50 percent capacity.

Texas saw its second, third and fourth highest daily spikes in cases since the outbreak began within two days of lockdown measures being eased in the state.

The state also reported its highest daily death count of 50 fatalities on April 30, just a day before the state's reopening, according to figures from Texas state health authorities.

The novel coronavirus has infected more than 5.4 million people across the globe, including over 1.6 million in the U.S. More than 2.2 million have reportedly recovered from infection globally, while over 346,300 have died, as of Tuesday, according to the latest figures from Johns Hopkins University.

This article was updated with comment from Dr. John Holdren.

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the U.S. states with the most confirmed COVID-19 cases.

U.S. states with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases.
U.S. states with the highest number of confirmed COVID-19 cases. STATISTA

The graphic below, provided by Statista, illustrates the spread of the COVID-19 virus across the U.S.

The spread of COVID-19 across the U.S.
The spread of COVID-19 across the U.S. STATISTA