Experts Weigh in on Pace of Reopening, Preventive Measures

Marjorie Jenkins, M.D., and Thomas Giordano, M.D., talk with HD Live! about waning social distancing measures, rising infection rates in the youth population


WEDNESDAY, June 24, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- As states across the country continue to move into different phases of reopening, many are questioning whether the rush to stabilize the economy will result in an influx of new COVID-19 infections. HD Live! sat down with Marjorie Jenkins, M.D., dean of the University of South Carolina School of Medicine Greenville, and Thomas Giordano, M.D., section chief of infectious diseases at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, to discuss the health care and economic uncertainty that faces the nation.

"I think there's a misconception that opening means going back to normal," Giordano said. "Opening means resuming some activity so that we can get our kids in school and get back to work. But it doesn't mean life is just like it was last fall. It's a new normal."

While older populations were initially the most hard-hit by the COVID-19 pandemic worldwide, both Jenkins and Giordano noted a recent rise in COVID-19-positive cases among 20- to 30-year-olds in the United States. They attributed this increase to younger populations now gathering in groups and no longer social distancing, but Giordano added that older people may also now be more cautious about potential exposure. In South Carolina, where they are seeing record numbers in their drive-through testing facilities, Jenkins believes people are now more informed about the symptoms of the virus and where they can obtain testing.

Despite knowing that close proximity and not wearing a face mask are health risks, people still do not appear to be taking all the necessary safety precautions seriously, Jenkins said. "There's a great public health opportunity and public service opportunity that we have to create messages around responsibility and about being safe and healthy," she said. "I believe we all have a great responsibility for our fellow man to really take care of ourselves, follow these rules, and I sadly do not see that widely happening."

Giordano added that it is important these preventive tools, such as masks and contract tracing, are not politicized, so that they will be successfully embraced by the mass collective. "We need good leadership; we need good messaging," he said. "But a mask is not a political statement. A mask is a tool that should be used to allow society to resume some sense of productivity, education, and safety."

What can we expect for this fall? Jenkins believes we will know more about COVID-19 by November and December, as the government continues to work on preparing a vaccine for future use. Without a vaccine and people having to head back indoors due to colder weather, winter may be worrisome, Giordano said. However, Jenkins remains optimistic. "I believe that we have promise coming," she said. "If we get it right now, then we can risk-mitigate better later, and that's really our hope -- that we get it right now."

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