Experts Offer CT Predictions, Hope For Summer/Fall Coronavirus

Rich Scinto

CONNECTICUT — Connecticut will likely be in a better position to battle the coronavirus in the summer and the fall, but residents shouldn't let their guard down, according to two experts who spoke on Gov. Ned Lamont's Tuesday news conference.

Connecticut saw another 314 positive coronavirus cases out of more than 7,800 tests; the positive rate for the batch was the lowest in months, Gov. Ned Lamont said. Another 23 deaths were also announced, which brought the state total to 3,472. Hospitalizations declined by six patients from Monday to Tuesday.

Experts: CT did a good job with mitigation strategy

Two experts on Lamont’s afternoon news conference were complimentary about Connecticut’s reopening and mitigation strategies to combat the virus.

“I want to thank you and your team for what you have done to get us through a very difficult moment in this state,” said Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former Food and Drug Administration commissioner. “We were hit very hard in Connecticut being in the tri-state area and this state has made it through some very difficult days.”

Gottlieb lives in Westport and has strong Connecticut ties. He said Lamont made the right call to not ban low-risk activities, particularly outdoor activities throughout the pandemic.

Dr. Ezekiel Emanuel, the department of medical ethics and health policy chair at the University of Pennsylvania was also complimentary of Connecticut’s strategy to combat the virus.

“Connecticut is a really good example of a place where public health measures have worked,” he said.

Reopening in phases, use of face masks, and encouraging outdoor gatherings over indoor ones have helped reduce the spread, Emanuel said. Connecticut has also done a good job of encouraging activities that offer a low risk of transmission and high economic impact.

“You need to get to that sweet spot places where the public health risk is low… and the economic impact is large so that when you open, you have a lot of people going back to work and a large amount of economic activity that can resume,” he said.

Predictions for the summer and fall

The summer will likely help reduce the transmission of the virus, especially as people partake more in outdoor activities, Gottlieb said. However, the virus won’t totally go away in the fall because it is a novel strain.

"Hopefully as we open and we increase risk, the seasonality of this virus will help offset some of that risk, and maybe a lot of it,” Gottlieb said.

Emanuel was also hopeful for the summer.

“We are probably going to be lucky for the summer… when weather is warmer people can do more activities outside, and we should take advantage of that,” he said.

The fall will likely bring a resurgence of the virus, but the country will have a much larger toolbox to fight it, Gottlieb said. Testing capacity and contact tracing capacity have been growing and several promising drug therapies are being developed.

“That is a tool box that can help mitigate the risk heading into the fall,” Gottlieb said, adding that outbreaks in the fall in different cities and states are likely, but the hope is that another national epidemic could be avoided.

Several therapeutic drugs are undergoing trials and testing, including four artificial antibody drugs that may work as a treatment to reduce the severity of the disease or prophylactically to reduce the chance of infection, according to Gottlieb. Similar drugs were developed for Ebola and the MERs virus. The antibody therapy could be used as a bridge for the vaccine.

Remdesivir was also granted emergency use by the FDA as a first generation antiviral for the virus. First generation antivirals confer some benefit and generally antiviral therapy gets better over time, which happened with HIV drugs and other diseases.

Hydroxychloroquine recently made headlines again after President Donald Trump announced he has been taking the drug for about a week and a half. Gottlieb said prophylactic use of the drug has generally declined through the pandemic and that it appears that White House staff are taking strong measures to protect the president from coming into contact with infected people; that likely would mean he isn’t a good candidate for the drug, Gottlieb said.

Gottlieb speculated that a relatively small number of vaccine doses may be ready during the fall, but not enough to widely inoculate the entire country. Those early vaccines may be useful to contain outbreaks and inoculate high-risk groups where the risk of experimental treatment is outweighed by the potential benefit.

A widespread vaccine is more likely in 2021 and most likely the second half of the year, Gottlieb said. It also isn’t known how effective the vaccine will be and whether it offers complete immunity to the virus or is more like the flu vaccine where it reduces the severity of the illness. It may also have to be a vaccine that people get on a seasonal basis like the flu.

Emanuel also thought that a widespread vaccine is more likely 12 to 18 months from now.

It will also be important to encourage a high flu vaccination rate in order to reduce the burden on the health care system, Gottlieb said. People who are infected with both the flu and the coronavirus at the same time tend to have worse health outcomes than those infected with either singularly, he said.

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This article originally appeared on the Across Connecticut Patch