The U.S. needs a unified approach to tackle rising coronavirus cases, infectious disease expert says

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People wait for health assessment check-in before entering Jackson Memorial Hospital, as Miami-Dade County eases some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Miami, Florida, U.S., June 18, 2020.

Marco Bello | Reuters

The United States needs a unified approach to tackle the rising cases of coronavirus infection and people should not get a false sense of security that a vaccine is just around the corner, infectious disease experts said on Monday. 

The U.S. recently reported a record increase in cases, with spikes seen in states that are well underway in their reopening process. Over the Fourth of July holiday weekend, Florida and Texas faced a surge of cases, leaving state and local governments struggling to gain the upper hand in containment efforts. 

Still, the rising case numbers have caused many states to change their recovery plans, delay reopening measures and re-introduce restrictions on businesses. 

“What we are seeing, certainly, is this virus (is) spreading across the states like a wildfire,” said Joshua Barocas, an assistant professor of medicine at Boston University and an infectious diseases physician at the Boston Medical Center.

He explained that states need to impose tighter restrictions on indoor gatherings. He said the surge in places like Florida and Texas should serve as a warning to other states, such as New Jersey or Massachusetts, where the infection spread appears to have slowed for now. 

“What we actually need is a comprehensive, unified approach to this,” he said on CNBC’s “Squawk Box Asia” on Monday. “We need people at all levels of government and society backing up one strategy – and that strategy, really at this point, while we’re waiting for effective vaccines, effective treatments, we need this to be a preventive strategy.”

He clarified that does not mean a complete lockdown or that people cannot ever leave their houses again. 

“It simply means avoiding sharing items, physically distancing when you’re out in public, wearing a mask — these are fairly straightforward, fairly truthfully simple things to follow that are actually going to prevent more surges and more economic turmoil, to be perfectly frank,” Barocas said. 

The U.S. has the highest number of reported cases and death toll in the world — more than 2.8 million people have been infected and close to 130,000 people have died from Covid-19.

Vaccine will take time

Multiple vaccines for the disease are being tested, with many of them undergoing clinical trials, meaning they are being tested on human volunteers. 

Barocas said it takes time and a lot of steps to develop a vaccine and that “we are not necessarily very close to ‘a magic bullet’ treatment either.” That makes it more crucial for people to “play on the same team” by doing their part in hand washing, social distancing and wearing masks, he added. 

We will be contending with this virus for a long time without a vaccine and I don’t want people to get a false sense of security that a vaccine is just around the corner even though we are making great strides towards one.

Amesh Adalja

senior scholar at ohns Hopkins University Center for Health Security

Even if a vaccine is quickly developed, there will likely not be enough of it to “make a dent” on the virus by the end of the year or by early 2021, according to Amesh Adalja. 

Adalja, an infectious disease expert, is a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. 

“I think we may have some batches of vaccine at that point but we’re not going to have enough to vaccinate the U.S population or the world’s population,” he said on CNBC’s “Street Signs Asia.”

“We will be contending with this virus for a long time without a vaccine and I don’t want people to get a false sense of security that a vaccine is just around the corner even though we are making great strides towards one,” Adalja added.

He also explained that breaking the chains of transmission in places like Florida, Texas and Arizona, where outbreaks have surged, is crucial to prevent hospitals from being inundated with patients.

Globally more than 11.4 million people have been infected and over half-a-million have died, according to Hopkins data. 

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