As guards drop amid vaccinations, is a fourth wave of COVID-19 still possible?

Posted at 4:46 PM, Mar 23, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-25 10:24:25-04

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misspelled Valerie Hardcastle's first name.

States like Michigan are seeing a fourth wave of COVID-19 and health officials are concerned it could be a red flag for the future of other states if action isn't taken.

"We're right on the cusp," said Valerie Hardcastle, head of the Institute for Health Innovation at Northern Kentucky University. "The directionality of which way we're going is not clear at the moment."

Although more people are vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus, Hardcastle said she fears people are letting their guard down too rapidly.

"What we see right now in at least Kentucky and Ohio, not so much in the states around us, their growth rate is accelerating," she said. "But what you see right now is community spread. That means it's spreading at a rate that's kind of consistent overt ime."

Ohio and Kentucky are not necessarily staring down an inevitable fourth wave, but numbers aren't showing a trend away either. More than 20% of the population in Indiana, Ohio and Kentucky are vaccinated.

"What you're seeing in Michigan, and what you're seeing in our surrounding states, is how you're starting to see a spike up," said Hardcastle. "Once you get that spike going, it will spread for a while and things will get much worse before they get better."

As cities and states across the country grapple with large Spring Break crowds and people seeking an early vacation, experts caution that those traveling should still be cautious about spreading the virus, by wearing masks and social distancing.

"You can safely go to the beach and just stay away from crowds," said Greg Kesterman, Hamilton County health commissioner. "If they're going to go out and do activities, make sure they think about their plan, make sure they take precautions so they don't get sick."

Large gatherings and parties, like those that surfaced out of Miami, are still causes for concern, Hardcastle said.

"We're seeing it primarily in two spaces," she said. "Unfortunately, these are the spaces that people are most likely to break their masking rules. The first one is larger family gatherings that are taking place indoors, and the second is restaurants and bars and places where you take off your mask so you can consume something, but perhaps the ventilation isn't good or you're not socially distant or you're hanging out there for a few hours."

Hardcastle said if people continue to remain cautious for a few more weeks, vaccination numbers will continue to climb and help battle potential for community spread before another spike occurs.

Experts local and national say people should continue to wear masks and socially distant, even if they're vaccinated.