Top epidemiologist says 'we've never seen anything like' the coronavirus

·2 min read

President Trump on Monday announced new social distancing guidelines calling for Americans not to gather in groups larger than 10, while the U.S. surgeon general warned an infection rate near that of Italy is likely if Americans do not radically limit their public interactions as soon as possible.

While many people have been frightened by the sudden change in tone from the White House and the federal government, Yahoo News’ Public Health contributor Kathryn Jacobsen, a George Mason University professor specializing in global health epidemiology, said there is still time to reduce the scale of infection by keeping interactions between households limited as much as possible.

Asked about the shift in tone from Washington, where just yesterday officials had said gatherings need only be limited to 50, Jacobsen said there’s “no magic number.”

“We don’t know what the threshold is that would minimize transmission between people at the community level,” Jacobsen told “Skullduggery” hosts Daniel Klaidman and Michael Isikoff. “We’ve never seen anything like this before.”

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Jacobsen, who has served as an expert adviser to the World Health Organization and other international health organizations, said there is “no playbook” for a threat like COVID-19.

“The social distancing is about trying to remove that physical contact between people, ‘Let’s just slow this down the best we can for now,’” Jacobsen said. Asked for the best-case scenario moving forward, Jacobsen said she would consider it a huge win if “two months from now people say, ‘Wow, we really overreacted.’”

While only 88 Americans have died from COVID-19 as of Tuesday morning, Jacobsen said that number will grow exponentially in the next week or two. “When we see the number of deaths, we’re seeing where the number of infections was two or three weeks ago,” she said. “We’re not going to see the effect of whether these social distancing measures are limiting the number of new infections for another week or two.”

While most people aren’t “ready for the kinds of lockdowns that it seems may be happening in the near future,” Jacobsen said they are necessary. “If we take this seriously for a few weeks, we can shorten the timeline for when we get this under control.”

A sign hangs on the door to the Schlessmann YMCA as gyms have been forced to close in Colorado's efforts to fend off the spread of coronavirus on March 16, 2020, in Denver. (David Zalubowski/AP)
A sign hangs on the door of a Denver-area YMCA as gyms have been forced to close in Colorado's efforts to fend off the spread of coronavirus. (David Zalubowski/AP)

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