This expert says we need to keep social distancing: ‘We don't want a complete resurgence'

Jacquie Cosgrove

April 30, 2020, 4:42 PM EDT

As coronavirus cases surpassed one million in the U.S. this week, groups in many states are continuing to protest, urging their governors to lift lockdown regulations and reopen businesses.

Marya Ghazipura, an epidemiologist and biostatistician in New York City, spoke with Yahoo Life to discuss the extreme risks that come with lifting social distancing measures too quickly. “We don't want a complete resurgence where we're back to where we started,” she explains.

To understand what part we play in the trajectory of the virus, Ghazipura says we first need to understand the three phases of any pandemic or epidemic.

“There's widespread transmission, there's low-level transmission and then there's no transmission. We are still on the widespread transmission moment,” she explains.

While we remain in the widespread transmission phase, stay-at-home orders greatly help reduce the number of cases overwhelming hospitals across the country. Ghazipura knows the devastating impact the virus has had on her city’s healthcare workers first-hand, her husband is a pulmonologist working on the frontline with COVID-19 patients at a New York City hospital. “I know it's tiring and cumbersome to stay at home for as long as you do,” she shares, “but it's privileged to be able to be at home. It really is.”

Video Transcript

- Many people want to lift these social distancing measures prematurely. If we do so too quickly, it will re-emerge and it will resurge to the same level we see today. We can't have that. I know your efforts may seem fruitless, because on one hand, you see cases rising every day. On the other hand, you may live in a place where you don't see a lot of cases. But as an epidemiologist, I assure you that this is the regular trajectory of any pandemic. You are saving lives staying home.

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I'm an epidemiologist and a biostatistician here in New York City. As an epidemiologist, we have this unique ability to map and project disease outcomes and conduct these epidemiological models as we're looking at disease trajectories. My job is also to take a look at all the new data that's emerging, and also contextualize it. I'm also on York City's COVID-19 scientific advisory committee where we advise the mayor on developments in vaccinations, treatments, and developments in terms of disease progression.

Many people think New York City is the epicenter of this virus, but it's not the epicenter. It's the vanguard. It's like tossing a rock into a pond. We expect it to ripple out. And we're seeing hotspots emerge across the United States. And so these are difficult decisions to make, because you're hurting the economy. There are social and economic repercussions to this. But right now we're seeing the problem with not enforcing it a lot sooner.

And to really understand this, we need to understand the three phases of any pandemic or epidemic. There is widespread transmission, there's low level transmission, and then there's no transmission. We are still on the widespread transmission moment. And really, the only effective protocol for containing widespread transmission is to simply stay in place. The problem with enforcing these public health measures is you don't see it. And if you don't see it, it means it's working. You're not seeing the deaths, you're not seeing the cases, but that's how you know you have a successful public health intervention.

And as we approach low level transmission, we can slowly and very gradually lift social distancing measures. We eventually want to get to a place where there's no transmission at all. We do expect that there might be another peak. What we do know is that there's a potential for a resurgence in the autumn, however we don't want a complete resurgence where we're back to where we started.

Clinical trials take years often, and vaccines take several years as well, but things are really ramping up. Scientists are moving at unprecedented rates, rates that we've never seen before. There are currently over 40 vaccines under development globally. I know it's tiring and cumbersome to stay at home for as long as you do, but it's privileged to be able to be at home. It really is. You are saving lives by maintaining a distance from other people when you aren't going out. It's not going to go away any time soon. It's going to be very slow, and we need your help making this go away.