We may have cleared the first peak of the coronavirus pandemic, but by no means have we turned a corner yet.
That’s what Dr. Tom Inglesby, director for the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told the USA TODAY Editorial Board Tuesday.
While some states like Montana, Alaska and Hawaii are experiencing declines in COVID-19 case counts, he said half of the country is still seeing daily numbers rise.
“I think on average we’re probably at a plateau or slightly past the first peak,” he said. “We are not at all past the epidemic.”
While he agrees it makes sense for the country to reopen state-by-state, he's concerned about the risks of lifting social distancing restrictions without the right testing and health care capacity. Inglesby expects numbers will go up in all states as they reopen, but believes that can be mitigated with the right measures, such as selective business reopenings.
“We’re going to have a risk of this pandemic through this year and each state is going to have to be driving forward with their eyes wide open,” he said.
Inglesby said as states begin to reopen, the country must tolerate a level of risk and spread of the virus until a vaccine is made available to the general public.
“It’s not going to be a perfect system,” he said. “We’re not going to reduce the epidemic in any place to zero before we have a vaccine and there has been wide-scale vaccinations."
Scientists around the world are working at an unprecedented pace to develop, produce and distribute a vaccine, and Inglesby expressed optimism a working vaccine may be available July 2021.
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At this point, the World Health Organization is tracking about 80 vaccine candidates, he said. The three major backers of the effort are the Chinese and U.S. governments, and the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI) headquartered in Norway.
Inglesby conceded the challenges of finding a safe and effective vaccine and then making and distributing it. He said the U.S. government should be transparent about the timeline.
“Companies are never asked to make hundreds of millions or billions of doses of vaccine in the first year they’ve created (it),” he said. “The whole process is definitely unprecedented.”
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In the meantime, Americans will be forced for the foreseeable future to live a new normal in which employees continue to work from home, masks are worn in public and crowded events are postponed.
Inglesby is hopeful, however, after the coronavirus is well behind us society can return to hand-shaking and high-fiving .
"I hope that after we have a vaccine and all of us who want to can be immunized then we can get back to normal," he said.
Follow Adrianna Rodriguez on Twitter: @AdriannaUSAT.