‘We can’t just give up’ — Harvard doctor says U.S. must take precautions as virus cases rise

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Dr. Jeremy Faust, an instructor at Harvard Medical School, told CNBC on Wednesday that the U.S. cannot view surges in coronavirus cases as inevitable, as states across the country try to combat growing outbreaks. 

“There’s not a huge appetite for shutdowns right now, and so we have to look to other things. We can’t just give up and say, ‘OK. We’re not going to do anything,”’ Faust said on “Power Lunch.” 

The number of Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations linked to the virus is rising in states such as Texas, California and Arizona. The worsening outbreaks come after states lifted stay-at-home orders and eased restrictions on businesses. 

Testing capacity in the U.S. has expanded dramatically since the pandemic began, contributing to some of the rising case counts. But hospitalization figures are less sensitive to overall testing capacity. Additionally, some states, such as Florida and Arizona, are seeing their rates of positive tests increase, an indication of how widely the virus is spreading in a community. 

People line up to be tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) as a part of Valle del Sol’s testing at Tolleson Fire Department Station 161 in Tolleson, Arizona, U.S. June 18, 2020.

Courtney Pedroza | Reuters

Faust, who also is an emergency room doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston, said there is no “silver bullet” for preventing infection from Covid-19. He stressed the importance of wearing a face mask and keeping some capacity restrictions in effect at public places. 

“They help a little bit, all the time,” said Faust, who added that contact tracing and quarantining those who are sick remain necessary to combating outbreaks, even if the sometimes asymptomatic nature of Covid-19 complicates those efforts. “That doesn’t mean we should not do all of this because it helps a little. We have to recognize that just because something isn’t perfect doesn’t mean it isn’t good.” 

William Hanage, a professor of epidemiology at Harvard’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said Wednesday on CNBC’s “The Exchange” that it is clear people want to avoid re-instituting strict lockdown measures in response to surging Covid-19 cases. To avoid the economic damage that would follow, state and local governments must be proactive when smaller case increases arise, he said. 

“If you are a sitting on a body of community transmission for long enough that the only thing you can do is something which is really severe, that’s the problem,” he said. “You have to start taking milder actions sooner. When I talk about testing, you don’t just test. You know what you’re going to do if you get a certain kind of result. And that’s the kind of thing I would like to be seeing more of.” 

Faust contended that some governors chose to reopen their economies without properly considering all of the facts around Covid-19 in their states. Many of the earliest states to lift restrictions did not meet criteria laid out by the White House to do so, a New York Times analysis last month found. 

“The lesson is that you want to be data driven, not date driven,” Faust said. “Places opened because we reached a certain date on the calendar and people decided it was time to go.” 

School this fall 

Better planning and consideration is critical ahead of the fall and the scheduled start of school, Faust said, calling it “extremely important as a society” that children be able to attend in-person class. 

“School is not just a convenience. It’s an essential part of development for our children, and what we do today, we’ll see the effects of it two months from now. The emergency to deal with schools is right this minute,” he said. “We have to innovate. We have to plan. We have to execute.” 

Faust suggested that schools could rotate the number of children in a classroom at a given time and take advantage of underused spaces for instruction. In certain parts of the country, that could mean holding class outside, he said. 

“I want to see innovation so that the worst-case scenario does not come true, which is that we essentially have a lost year for Americans and effectively that will hurt so many people but especially the poor,” he said. 

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