Disease Expert Likens Coronavirus Outbreak to 'Forest Fire'

U.S. tops 2.27 million cases, leading the world in the pandemic.
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As the U.S. topped 2.27 million known cases of Covid-19 over the weekend and deaths quickly approached 120,000, a top infectious disease expert compared the outbreak to a "forest fire."

"I'm actually of the mind right now, I think this is more like a forest fire. I don't think that this is going to slow down," said Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at University of Minnesota, during an appearance on NBC News' "Meet the Press."

Dr. Osterholm said that in the early spring, he and a team of researchers were looking at different scenarios for the novel coronavirus, and how it compared to the typical cycle of the influenza virus. But on Sunday, he said that the influenza analogy no longer appears applicable. 

"I don't think that this is going to slow down. I'm not sure that the influenza analogy applies anymore. I think that wherever there is wood to burn, this fire is going to burn. And right now we have a lot of susceptible people. And so, I think right now I don't see this slowing down through the summer or end of the fall. I don't think we're going to see one, two and three waves."

He also criticized the lack of a coherent national strategy to quash the outbreak. 

While most states are already undergoing some type of reopening and former hot spots such as New York and Massachusetts are seeing an overall trend toward slowing outbreaks, other states, such as Arizona, have seen worrying spikes in cases, leading tech giant Apple  (AAPL) - Get Report to close some stores again over the virus risks.

Nationwide, since last Sunday, the U.S. saw its total known infection rate increase by around 180,000 cases by late afternoon Sunday, according to the Johns Hopkins disease-tracking map.

Globally, more than 8.8 million people have been diagnosed with the virus. 

Brazil, which has more than a million known cases, and Russia, which has about about a half million known cases, are the world's other sites of large outbreaks. The crisis in Europe, meanwhile, especially in Italy and Spain, appears to be getting a rest. The U.K. has clocked in over 300,000 total cases.

Much of Asia, where the pandemic began, has also seen its Covid-19 spread  nearly halt. After implementing strict quarantines and lockdowns, China has officially stayed below 90,000 total cases, despite its vast population -- and some concerns of new cases and signs of coronavirus contamination at food markets. Singapore has keep its count below 43,000 and Japan -- which has been criticized as too lax over the virus spread -- has an official count at below 18,000. While some have questioned Japan's total count, a recent antibody testing initiative by SoftBank reportedly found a "positive rate" of 0.43% after giving out 44,066 coronavirus antibody tests to company employees and families and 500 medical institutions in Japan.

At the same time, some experts continue to worry that getting Covid-19 and recovering may not mean future immunity is guaranteed and that the potential of people not showing symptoms to "shed" the virus may be contributing to the outbreak. 

A study recently published in the journal "Nature Medicine," by a group of Chinese scientists found that asymptomatic patients appeared to have "a weaker immune response to SARS-CoV-2 infection" and that they also were "shedding" the virus for a median duration of 19 days, with some as long as 45 days.

At a campaign rally on Saturday night, President Donald Trump, who has at times sought to downplay the urgency of the pandemic -- telling Americans early on it would be gone by April -- blamed much of the U.S. outbreak on testing.

“When you do testing to that extent, you’re going to find more people, you’re going to find more cases. So, I said to my people, ‘Slow the testing down, please!’ They test and they test ... we have tests of people that don't know what's going on."