Although every state has now begun reopening its economy in one form or another, health officials are warning the public to not let their guards down against the spread of the coronavirus.
The U.S. has the highest number of coronavirus cases around the world, but the rate of infections has declined in several parts of the country as a result of social distancing restrictions.
Dr. Lakshmana Swamy, an ICU physician at Boston Medical Center, warned what could happen if people take too much of a lackadaisical approach towards the pandemic.
“What are people seeing across the country in our numbers?” Swamy said on Yahoo Finance’s The Ticker recently (video above). “They’re seeing coronavirus cases go down. That’s fantastic.”
But, he added, “what you’re not seeing is that the hospital is still jam-packed with people that were deferring care, who were staying at home, scared of coming in. So the hospital is still really busy. No one’s getting a break here. It’s terrifying to think that now on top of this, as we start to reopen, we could lose control of the virus again.”
‘What I’m seeing in Alabama … terrifies me’
There are currently 20 states experiencing an increase in the number of coronavirus cases. Most of these states — including Alabama, Florida, and Georgia — were among the first ones to reopen their economies over the last month.
“What I’m seeing in Alabama, of course, terrifies me, as it does so many people,” Swamy said. “We’re all suffering from lockdown. It’s a huge hit, of course, to the economy, to individual people, to health, to everything. But it pales in comparison to the cost that the virus takes when it runs free.”
Although many are calling for an end to social distancing restrictions because of its impact on the economy, research from the National Bureau of Economic Research (NBER) has indicated that reopening the economy “will have a much smaller-than-expected impact.”
“You look across the country where people haven’t been hit as hard, thank god,” Swamy said. “But you see that people don’t get it. It’s a really abstract concept. It’s hard to believe in that, right? It takes a lot of trust to believe what you’re seeing and hearing.”
“The masks are sort of a symbol of it,” he continued. “The bigger thing is social distancing. I mean, crowds together in open spaces, or especially in closed spaces, it’s terrifying. And it takes weeks to see the effects of that. So people will feel like ‘oh, look, we did that. It’s no problem. Hey, look, they did it over there. We can do it here, too.’”
Although there is still a lot to be known about the coronavirus, one thing that Swamy said he pretty much knows for certain is that there doesn’t seem to be herd immunity, which would mean that enough people had the coronavirus that they wouldn’t be able to get it and transmit it again.
“It’s a lot of science that’s unknown there,” he said. “But I think what we know is that we can’t rely on the virus not being able to hop around and catch like wildfire, even in Boston.”
‘We’re going to see a spike in COVID-19’
Adding to the stress are the recent protests against police brutality that have taken place over the past week in response to the killing of George Floyd by a Minneapolis police officer, Derek Chauvin.
Large crowds amassed in major cities across the country, and although many of the participants wore face masks, they were still in close proximity to others protesting. Some health officials worry this could cause a new spike in coronavirus cases.
“I am deeply concerned about a super-spreader type of incident,” Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz said on Saturday. “We’re going to see a spike in COVID-19. It’s inevitable.”
Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) and NYC Mayor Bill DeBlasio voiced similar concerns during recent press conferences, with Cuomo urging people to “demonstrate with a mask on.”
“It’s heartbreaking, because what we see over and over again is two to three weeks later, the cases start hitting and you see a surge and you see spikes,” Swamy said. “I hope that doesn’t happen anywhere else. But the virus is here. It’s everywhere. So it’s heartbreaking. I hope we can get to people before the virus does.”
Adriana is a reporter and editor for Yahoo Finance. Follow her on Twitter @adrianambells.