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.
Ghazipura also serves as a member of the scientific advisory committee in NYC advising Mayor Bill de Blasio on disease development and progression. As an epidemiologist, she and her team are working tirelessly to map and project disease outcomes and trajectories so that they can help the mayor and hospitals throughout the city make informed decisions concerning the coronavirus.
“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,” Ghazipura explains. “While many people want to lift these social distancing measures prematurely, the reality is that we need to do so gradually and when the time is appropriate.”
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.
Phase 1: Widespread Transmission
“This means that it's difficult to trace back to where you got the virus from. It's difficult to do mass testing and really the only effective protocol for containing widespread transmission is to simply stay in place,” Ghazipura says. “This is where social distancing measures are really important. We want to divide our social networks in the smallest units possible.”
Phase 2: Low-Level Transmission
“As we approach low-level transmission, we can slowly and very gradually lift social distancing measures. As transmission is lower, we now have the capacity to test more and not restrict testing to only those who are hospitalized and health care workers. We can also start focusing even more on clinical trials,” Ghazipura says.
Phase 3: No Transmission
“We eventually want to get to a place where there's no transmission at all. When we think of this pandemic, we think of the curve and we're at the tail end of the acceleration phase and we want to accelerate our deceleration phase, but not too much and not too quickly because we don't want a complete resurgence,” 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.”
As we await results from clinical trials currently underway that could change the course of the pandemic, Ghazipura stresses that safety measures should remain in place to contain and reduce transmission. The goal remains to get to low-level transmission and Ghazipura says that we're already starting to see the number of cases slow and start to plateau in New York City.
Ghazipura has a message to those out there who are growing exhausted of social distancing measures:
“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,” she says. “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. These are difficult decisions to make because you're hurting the economy. There are social and economic repercussions to this, but we need your help in making this go away.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.
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