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Johns Hopkins experts on reversing troubling COVID-19 trends

Posted at 4:02 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-20 09:41:52-05

BALTIMORE  — We've set another new record for coronavirus cases. 2,900 more Marylanders now have the virus. That's just the start of the concern.
Our positivity rate's above 7 percent and nearly 1,200 are in the hospital, the highest since the end of May.

Johns Hopkins experts say now is the time to pull the emergency break and enact targeted restrictions to control the spread until a vaccine is widely available.

"The epidemic is uncontrolled currently in the US. Rates have never been this high," said Amber D’Souza, a professor with the Department of Epidemiology and Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

And unfortunately, Johns Hopkins experts said during a virtual press conference today they believe it’s only going to get worse. David Dowdy, an associate professor with the Department of Epidemiology, said there’s usually a 3-week lag between when we see cases and when we see deaths.

"We’ve seen an increase in the number of cases in the past two weeks of about 70-75 percent nationwide and we can probably expect to see that number increase in deaths over the next 2-3 weeks," said Dowdy.

But experts said it’s not too late to reverse these troubling trends. They say we need to continue wearing masks, maintaining physical distance and avoiding large gatherings.

In places with widespread community transmission and where hospitals are starting to come under strain, they recommend leaders close high risk activities, like indoor dining, bars and gyms, but through a targeted approach while scaling up contact tracing.

"In the course of contact tracing, those tracers learn a lot about where people have been over the last few days that might have contributed to their infection and so that’s a really important source of data to target these restrictions as narrowly as possible so there doesn’t have to be community wide closures," said Caitlin Rivers, a senior scholar with the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security.

"The key is the limit the damage that is done until the next 2-3 months or more until we have a vaccine," said Dowdy.

Experts expect most people won’t be vaccinated until the spring or summer, so in the meantime, these continued efforts by everyone in the community are critical, especially with the holidays approaching.

"The life you save may be your own," said Josh Sharfstein, Vice Dean for Public Health Practice and Community Engagement at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.

"Yes, your own and your neighbors and your friends and the people you don’t know who you still should care about," said D'Souza.

Thursday, the CDC issued new guidance for Thanksgiving, urging Americans not to travel and cancel plans with relatives outside your household.

In the live webcast, Dr. D’Souza said that COVID-19 is the leading cause of death in the United States. Johns Hopkins issued a correction later saying it is currently the third leading cause of death, after heart disease and cancer.