Illustration: Kieran Blakey

The Nuance

This is What Could Make or Break the U.S. This Fall

If the United States doesn’t get its act together, it’s going to be a tough autumn

Markham Heid
Published in
5 min readAug 6, 2020

As May gave way to June, rates of Covid-19 cases and deaths were falling across much of the United States, especially in New York, New Jersey, Michigan, and many of the virus’s springtime hot spots. Some epidemiological models even predicted that warm and sunny weather, coupled with more open windows and outdoor-centric lifestyles, would push infection rates so low that much of America could return to a state of relative normalcy.

Of course, things haven’t played out that way. Falling case and death counts helped lull many parts of the country into a false sense of security. In many states, imprudent reopenings, coupled with poor adherence to commonsense safety measures, gave a dwindling virus a big boost. “We declared victory at a plateau a couple months ago, and now we have a brand-new peak that has broken the previous record by twice the magnitude,” says Mark Cameron, PhD, an associate professor in the Department of Population and Quantitative Health Sciences at Case Western Reserve University School of Medicine in Cleveland.

Cameron and other experts say that if the United States makes the right moves now — starting today — there may still be time to right the ship before the fall. But if we don’t, prognostications for the coming months are almost uniformly dire.

“Whether you’re looking at individual states or the whole country, the outlook right now is grim,” he says.

Creating fresh reservoirs

Over and over again, virus experts highlight two foreseeable events as likely to cause major trouble this fall. Those events are school reopenings and the advent of the cold and flu season.

“I understand the need for parents to send their kids back to school, but I think school reopenings are going to create huge reservoirs of infected people,” says Lee Riley, MD, a professor and division head of infectious diseases and vaccinology at UC-Berkeley.



Markham Heid

I’m a long-time contributor at TIME and other media orgs. I write mostly about health. I grew up in Michigan, but these days I live in southwest Germany.