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Expect Pandemic To Get Worse Before It Gets Better, Warns Johns Hopkins Infectious Disease Specialist

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The Harvard Global Health Institute has launched an interactive map that shows the coronavirus risk for each county in the US. Screenshot: Harvard Global Health Institute

Orange County hit the 10,000 case mark for coronavirus this week, but Central Florida health experts say mask mandates may be having an impact on slowing the surge. 

With July 4th around the corner- city and county leaders have cancelled large scale fireworks events- keen to avoid the gatherings like Memorial Day that they believe triggered the latest wave of COVID-19 cases. 

Joining Intersection to discuss the surge and the response- both in Florida and across the country are Dr. Amesh  Adalja, senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, and WMFE health reporter Abe Aboraya. 

The latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health show more than 9,500 Florida residents testing positive for coronavirus in a single day. 

For the first time the overall number of new cases reported statewide, including non residents, was more than 10,000.

“That’s really close to the last high water mark, which was last Friday- which was 9,580,” said Aboraya.

“We had a couple of days after that high water mark last week where we were trending down, and unfortunately it seems to be picking up again. Just as importantly, the percent of positive cases has been hovering around 15%, and that’s been pretty consistent in the last two weeks.”

Aboraya said the percent positive is an important metric to watch.

“Today we saw more test results come in from yesterday, and that percent positive is still too high.”

Adalja said Floridians can expect the case numbers to get worse before they get better.  

“That’s because there is this lag, there’s an incubation period, there’s people that are needing to present to the hospital, taking some time to get sick. So all of that incorporates into what to expect in the future. And I do think that for places who have seen increasing percent positivity and increasing hospitalization rates, that’s likely to continue for some period of time. It takes a while to get control of these.”

Adalja said the challenge for hospitals and health departments is to figure out how to cope with this “new normal.” 

“This is something now that has established itself in the human population, it is not going to go anywhere until we have a vaccine. And the question becomes: how do we keep the cases to a pace that’s manageable by health department contact tracing teams as well as by hospitals.”

New tools like the Harvard Global Health Institute’s interactive map can help people understand the risks.

Adalja said Americans need to get used to calculating the risk of activities that put them in contact with others.

He said social distancing rules can’t be applied dogmatically to every single activity. People also have to consider their individual risk tolerance. 

“There’s not going to be right or wrong answers all the time, or black or white answers. Everything is going to be shades of gray because there’s non zero risk with anything you do. But you can’t expect people to basically put their lives on hold until there’s a vaccine because they’re going to miss out on their lives.”

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About Matthew Peddie

Matt Peddie