NATIONWIDE As states begin to loosen stay-at-home orders and business restrictions, U.S. health officials warn of a possible second wave of the coronavirus later this year.

  • Second wave could hit this winter
  • Likely to coincide with flu season
  • More testing and contact tracing is necessary

While workers and businesses are looking forward to getting the economy going again, many people are also concerned about safety since widespread testing and a vaccine for the virus aren’t available yet.

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To predict the effects of loosening restrictions prematurely, experts are looking to see what has happened in other countries this year.

Japanese Island Saw Surge in Virus Cases After Restrictions Lifted

Government officials in Hokkaido, Japan, lifted lockdown restrictions on March 19. Hokkaido Governor Naomichi Suzuki had acted swiftly to contain the virus, but it led to a false sense of security. Under pressure from businesses struggling to stay afloat, he eased restrictions.

Once the announcement lifting restrictions came, people gathered in streets and cafes. After hearing about the eased restrictions, people also started traveling to Hokkaido. Dr. Kiyoshi Nagase, the doctor who helped coordinate the Japanese government’s response to the pandemic, told TIME that the immediate gathering of people is likely what kicked off the second wave of coronavirus there.

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Three weeks after the stay-at-home orders were lifted, there was a record number of new cases of COVID-19 in Hokkaido. It forced the governor to place the island on lockdown again.

When Could the Second Wave of Coronavirus Hit the U.S.?

President Trump’s adviser, Dr. Anthony Fauci, says a second wave of coronavirus in the U.S. is inevitable. Robert Redfield, the director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said on April 21 that the second wave of the novel coronavirus will likely coincide with flu season. That means the wave would hit this winter.

What Will Happen if There is a Second Wave of Coronavirus?

Dr. Fauci said on Wednesday that if states lift restrictions too early, the country could be right back where it was a few weeks ago in terms of new infection rates. He said the U.S. could see more deaths than are currently predicted.

If the next wave of coronavirus coincides with flu season, it would put an even bigger strain on hospitals. Dr. Fauci says the severity of the second wave depends on how U.S. officials respond over the next few months.

How to Brace for a Second Wave of the Virus

The U.S. continues to lag behind in coronavirus testing. Dr. Fauci says more testing, contact tracing, and isolating all infected Americans are the keys to making sure the second wave is not as deadly as the first. He says the federal government needs to help states increase their testing.

Health officials advise that people continue their current safety measures such as wearing cloth masks.

CDC director Robert Redfield told The Washington Post that U.S. officials need to encourage people to get flu shots this fall, to help free up beds for people suffering from COVID-19.