CONNECTICUT — A leading public health expert said Connecticut is in for a "very difficult" two or three months as the coronavirus pandemic enters "the eighth inning."
Dr. Scott Gottlieb, former head of the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, weighed in on the state of the health crisis during a news conference with Gov. Ned Lamont on Thursday.
In the beginning, Gottlieb said, coronavirus outbreaks were regionalized, but now, "we are seeing a truly national epidemic where every part of the country is going to be simultaneously engulfed in infection."
He compared the spread to that of a typical flu season, which starts regionally and eventually covers the country as the season progresses.
Robust testing is key to helping prevent the spread of the virus, Gottlieb said. It's no coincidence that many of the states with the lowest transmission rates are also the ones doing the most testing.
"I think around the country we’re going to see Thanksgiving probably be a line of demarcation where two, three weeks from now ... the picture is going to look a lot more troubling in terms of spread generally, and pressure on the health care system," Gottlieb said.
The state Department of Public Health on Thursday reported another 1,158 cases of COVID-19 over the past 24 hours, and hospitalizations went up by another 33 beds.
Faced with the clear evidence that the state was in the midst of what Gottlieb described as the "most acute" period of the pandemic, Lamont said he did not have plans to commit to a complete lockdown.
The governor said health officials learned that workplaces and sports can be managed and kept open safely. Grocery stores, he said, are starting to get more crowded, and he will be urging grocers to add hours to their schedules for older shoppers.
Infections have also risen in schools over the past week.
“I think Halloween had something to do with that," Gottlieb said. "I think parents brought kids together for Halloween and that has led to some of the outbreaks that we’re seeing in school.”
The governor said he still favored keeping the decision whether to close schools or keep them open in the hands of the local school districts.
School closures are emphasized during influenza pandemics because children are a big spreader of influenza, Gottlieb said.
"That’s not the case with coronavirus," he said. "We’ve learned that now children aren’t a major source of community spread, especially young children."
Gottlieb said Connecticut should do everything it can to preserve in-classroom instruction, particularly for students in kindergarten through fifth grade. The state was looking into hiring younger teachers as districts continued to navigate a shortage which had caused some schools to close, according to Lamont.
The risk of transmission via contaminated surfaces was overemphasized earlier in the pandemic, Gottlieb said. Health officials have now learned the virus is spread mainly through respiratory droplets. The virus can also become aerosolized in some optimum conditions, mainly tight indoor locations with poor ventilation.
Next year will look a lot brighter than 2020, in no small measure due to new technology, according to Gottlieb. He made that prediction on the day the state launched its COVID-19 exposure notification app, COVID Alert CT. The app, available for Apple and Android mobile devices, informs users if they may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Vaccines are also in their late-stage trials, Gottlieb said, and he foresaw a much deeper "therapeutic toolbox" available next year.
He said vaccines will be made available first for high-risk populations, and then provided to "broader and broader populations until we are ready to mass inoculate the population, generally." He predicted that would happen in the summer.