July Or August? When The Coronavirus Crisis Could See A Turning Point
MARY LOUISE KELLY, HOST:
So how long must we live under tight restrictions before the coronavirus outbreak comes under control? President Trump ventured an answer at yesterday's White House briefing.
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PRESIDENT DONALD TRUMP: People are talking about July, August - something like that.
KELLY: At today's briefing, though, Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases - he cautioned against setting too specific a timeline.
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ANTHONY FAUCI: You have to be careful. When you get a number, you own the number. And then if the number doesn't come out, you're in trouble.
KELLY: Let's talk now with someone who has been studying the data, Justin Lessler of Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.
JUSTIN LESSLER: Hi. How are you?
KELLY: Hi. I'm well. Thank you. Help me process the president's comment there that we just heard about July or August, which is four or five months from now. Do you agree with that assessment?
LESSLER: Yeah. I mean, it's not exactly clear to me what he's referring to in terms of the timing - whether he's talking about when the epidemic will have peaked and begin declining or when we'll be out of the woods altogether. One of the interesting questions is that if we do well in mitigating or containing the epidemic, we actually slow it down, so it lasts longer. So I think...
KELLY: Flattening the curve is the term we're all learning.
LESSLER: As people have been saying, flatten the curve. And if we flatten the curve, it may peak in July or in August. If we don't flatten the curve, it'd probably peak much sooner but in a very unpleasant way.
KELLY: Are there models we can look to based on experience in, say, China, which is ahead of us in this, or Italy?
LESSLER: Yeah. So I think it's too early to say exactly how things are going to play out in Italy since it takes people a few weeks to die after they're infected. We're not going to see the impact of Italy's measures for a little bit in their death data. But we know China was able to actually halt the epidemic in its tracks, so it is possible. What we don't know what's going to happen now that people are starting to move around again in the country and interact and if they're going to see a resurgence there.
KELLY: Right. I mean, I guess my basic question is, can anyone really know - scientist, president, you name it - when there are so many unknowns at this point in terms of whether people will obey the advice that's coming out of the federal government and what kind of impact that might have in such a huge country like this?
LESSLER: Yeah. I mean, you're absolutely right. And I think not only, you know, do my - can no one really know. I think the experience of each state might be very different. We're a large country. We have different weather patterns in states. People in different places may have different levels of willingness to comply with social distancing measures. So we could see very different impacts in different places across the country.
KELLY: I wonder if that helps explain some of what can be perceived as a disconnect. We heard the president talking about July or August, but I know here at least in D.C., schools are closed for just two weeks so far, not for the rest of the school year.
LESSLER: Yeah. I think people are playing a wait-and-see approach. I think it's going to be hard to decide whether to reopen the schools because if it - we don't see cases, it could be things - because things are going slow, and it could be because things are not working or are working. But if we stop, does the epidemic come back?
KELLY: In the brief moments we have left, what will it look like to you to turn the corner? How do we define that?
LESSLER: I think we have to have either a method to have targeted interventions so that we don't have to take these blunt measures. Right now broad social distancing is the big hammer, and it's sort of all we have. So we need a scalpel, and whether that is the ability to test more and actually target the people who are infected or having a vaccine or some treatment that can be used prophylactically...
KELLY: We wait to see. Justin Lessler...
KELLY: Thank you. He is associate professor of epidemiology at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.