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Epidemiologist warns next 6 to 12 weeks will be ‘darkest of the entire pandemic’

A coronavirus test site earlier this month in Winthrop
A coronavirus test site earlier this month in WinthropErin Clark/Globe Staff

With recent national data showing coronavirus cases surging again, more epidemiologists are warning of tough times ahead in the fall and winter.

“The next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic,” Dr. Michael Osterholm, director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, said Sunday on NBC-TV’s “Meet the Press."

He said vaccines and treatments were “coming down the pike" but wouldn’t arrive fast enough to fend off the coming rise in cases.

“When I was on this show last on Sept. 13,” Osterholm told moderator Chuck Todd, “we had 33,000 cases reported that day. You may recall I warned that we were going to see a very dark fall. Friday, we had 70,000 cases, matching the largest number we had seen back during the really serious peak in July. That number, we’re going to blow right through that. And between now and the holidays, we will see numbers much, much larger than even the 67,000 to 75,000 cases.”

Professor Peter Hotez, dean of the National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, said in a tweet Sunday it " looks like the train is coming, not helped by a White House in denial, accelerating disinformation. It will be a rough fall and winter."

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“It’s a matter of protecting you and family for this upcoming November to March period.” He advised people to “try to avoid solitude, but maintain your social distancing unit, secure access to mental health counseling, make a plan.”

Sounding a more hopeful note, he said, “Things will improve by spring. ... Next year at this time our quality of life will be much better.".

Joseph Allen, a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the school’s Healthy Buildings Program, employed a sports metaphor, tweeting Sunday, “It’s only half-time. Hope people found a day or two to catch their breath this month because November, December, and Jan are shaping up to be dark days.”

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“Everything is on the line, so there is no other choice,” he wrote. “This is no time to slow down.”

A chorus of experts have been saying they are expecting a surge in cases — with one warning of a “perfect and terrible storm” — in coming months unless the United States steps up its effort to prevent it.

While cases have gone up nationally, so far the death toll has stayed relatively flat. But experts have said deaths tend to lag cases because it takes time for the virus to kill people. Marc Lipsitch, a professor of epidemiology at the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of its Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics. said Monday in a briefing with reporters that an increase in the number of deaths is “inevitable.”

Over the past week, there has been an average of 56,615 cases per day, an increase of 30 percent from the average two weeks earlier, the New York Times reported. At least 219,500 people have already died from the virus.



Martin finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.