WHO: We're not seeing a 'second wave.' Coronavirus cases are spiking because lockdown rules are easing.

WHO: We're not seeing a 'second wave.' Coronavirus cases are spiking because lockdown rules are easing.
Holiday beachgoers are reminded to stay six feet apart at Venice Beach on Memorial Day as coronavirus safety restrictions continue being relaxed.David McNew/Getty Images
  • New surges in coronavirus cases in some countries and states have been called a "second wave."
  • But most places in the world are "still very much in the throes" of a first wave, a World Health Organization leader said June 12.
  • The upticks are related to loosened lockdown measures, not a resurgence of the virus running its natural course.
  • In the absence of lockdowns, countries need to find alternatives to control this ongoing first wave.

As states continue to reopen businesses and many Americans attempt to resume some sense of normalcy — going to the beach or, in some cases, back to work — they're also seeing spikes in coronavirus cases.

At least 21 states have witnessed an increase in new infections, with at least nine states reporting hospitalization rates go up last week.

Countries like China have also experienced surges in coronavirus cases in some cities after opening tourist attractions, restaurants, and other businesses.

But calling instances like these a "second wave" isn't quite accurate, Dr. Mike Ryan, executive director of the World Health Organization's Health Emergencies Programme, said during a media briefing June 13.

"First and foremost, most of the world right now is still very much in the the first wave of this pandemic," he said.


While many countries have been through their peak of the first wave, that doesn't mean upticks represent a new wave in the way most scientists and public health professionals define it.

"In other words, the disease has not reached a very low level, maintained a low level, and then come back some time later in the year," Ryan said.

Rather, these resurgences seem to be related to societies' reopening, leading people to mingle without necessarily practicing physical distancing.

"It's not surprising at all that any country coming out of this so-called lockdown can have clusters of disease, reemergence of disease," he said. "That's not necessarily a second wave."

A second lockdown might not be effective, so governments need good data to control the spread

Ryan did not mention second lockdowns as a potential strategy for controlling new spikes in cases, though some regions in China have done just that and New York Governor Andrew Cuomo has said that may happen in New York City.


Rather, in their absence, he said jurisdictions can consider "much more micro processes" to help control the spread of the virus until a safe, effective vaccine is developed and widely distributed.

WHO: We're not seeing a 'second wave.' Coronavirus cases are spiking because lockdown rules are easing.
Coronavirus testing continues at the ProHealth testing centers in Jericho, New York on April 22, 2020.J. Conrad Williams, Jr./Newsday RM via Getty Images

For instance, they can identify exactly where the new cases are coming from and implement interventions in those specific sub-regions rather than state- or country-wide. But to do so, governments need good data.

"That really comes down to the sophistication of your public-health surveillance, your ability to test, track and trace your knowledge of the virus as it's spreading through communities, and your ability to apply measures in a way that's not a blanket measure," Ryan said.

"Without good data, it's almost impossible to take that approach," he added.


Another key to controlling new spreads is a strong relationship between leaders and their communities that empowers citizens with the knowledge and ability to protect themselves and their neighbors.

These types of measures, Ryan acknowledged, are easier said than done.

"There is a careful balance to be struck between keeping everyone at home and continuing to completely suppress transmission of COVID-19 and the untoward effects of that on the economy and society — and that's not an easy balance," he said. "This is a public health dilemma, and it's one that has to be carefully managed and balanced by every government every minute of every day."