Coronavirus will rage until it 'hits 60 to 70 percent' of the population, scientist says

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A top infectious disease expert has a dire warning about the coronavirus that has infected over 4.2 million and killed 290,390 worldwide.

According to Michael Osterholm, director of the Center of Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota, the initial wave of COVID-19 in places like New York City, Los Angeles and Seattle, represent only a small percentage of the illness and death yet to come.

"This damn virus is going to keep going until it infects everybody it possibly can," Osterholm said Monday during a meeting with the USA Today Editorial Board. "It surely won’t slow down until it hits 60 to 70%" of the population, the number that would create herd immunity and halt the spread of the virus.

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A person is tested for coronavirus at the drive through facility at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground Covid-19 testing site in Birmingham, England, Saturday May 2, 2020.

A person is tested for coronavirus at the drive through facility at the Edgbaston Cricket Ground Covid-19 testing site in Birmingham, England, Saturday May 2, 2020. (AP)

The 1918 Spanish Flu was the most severe pandemic in recent history and came in multiple waves worldwide. After being first seen among military personnel in the spring of 1918, a second and third wave ended up killing far more people -- 675,000 people are estimated to have died from the Spanish Flu in the U.S. Worldwide, the figure was 50 million.

If new cases of COVID-19 begin to fade this summer, it could be an indicator that the new coronavirus is following a seasonal pattern similar to the flu, scientists say.

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"It’s the big peak that’s really going to do us in," he said. "As much pain, suffering, death and economic disruption we’ve had, there’s been 5 to 20 percent of the people infected. ... That’s a long ways to get to 60 to 70 percent," he explained.

Osterholm also told the newspaper that only an effective vaccine would slow the virus before a large enough segment of the population becomes infected and develops some level of immunity.

However, even if a vaccine works, Osterholm said, it's not known whether it would be durable enough to confer long-lasting protection from SARS CoV-2, also known as COVID-19.