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Doctor describes dangers of new COVID-19 spread

SALISBURY — Dr. James Childs of the Yale School of Medicine described the complexities of dealing with the COVID-19 pandemic during an online talk sponsored by the Scoville Memorial Library on Thursday, May 14.

Childs, an epidemiologist, began by saying COVID-19 is the third coronavirus  in the last 20 years.

Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS), in 2003, reached pandemic levels. Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) in 2013 did not.

But “neither killed more than 1,000 people.”

COVID-19 “is unprecedented, but not unpredicted.”

SARS was not infectious until “symptoms developed,” so screening at airports and other public venues was effective.

But COVID-19 can be spread by people who have no symptoms.

“This will not stop” until there is widespread testing and contact tracing, and enforcement of a 14-day quarantine for those who test positive, Childs said.

He said “we haven’t really started testing” in the United States.

“But we can’t just do hospitalized patients. We have to go out there.”

Childs said there are more than 100 possible viral vaccines under consideration. Trials on some drugs, including hydroxychloroquine and drugs used to treat human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), have had mixed results, with a lot of unwanted side effects.

 Childs said the risk of becoming seriously sick from COVID-19 “climbs dramatically after age 50 and is very high at 80 plus.”

People with underlying medical problems such as high blood pressure, diabetes and obesity are at additional risk.

And younger people are in danger as well, with reports of strokes and inflammation of blood vessels in those demographic groups.

“So we don’t have a handle on the problem in different age groups.”

He said he expected the number of new cases to drop during the spring and summer, and then increase again in the fall.

Colder weather means people stay inside. And COVID-19 is “highly transmissible in closed quarters.”

Childs said wearing a mask or face covering won’t prevent an individual from infection, but it will help prevent people from infecting others.

Asked if the virus is mutating, Childs said, “Definitely,” but added that, “It’s not clear if it’s stronger or more virulent.”

He added that mutations make it more difficult to formulate a vaccine.

Asked about antibodies and immunity, Childs said that people who seem to have recovered from COVID-19 may get sick again. 

“Antibodies are usually a good thing. But do they indicate you are safe? We don’t know.”

Asked about reopening businesses and returning to normal in general, Childs said working in confined spaces was “problematic” given the 6-foot distancing recommendation and the 14-day quarantine period for those testing positive.

He said the wearing of masks should be enforced.

“Personal responsibility is important.”

Childs said as businesses reopen he expects there will be local outbreaks that require closing again. 

“It will be like an on/off switch.”

He reiterated: “The key to this will be contact tracing, and much more testing.”

He said that a nationwide reopening “will be piecemeal.”

New York state’s less-populated counties, for instance, will be able to reopen sooner than the New York City metropolitan area.

“But economically, socially, we have to do it.”

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