‘Be prepared for a long haul’: Expert answers lingering COVID-19 questions

Updated: Mar. 22, 2020 at 6:05 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - The instructions for how we are supposed to act as coronavirus continues to spread around South Carolina are clear, but how long this will remain our new normal isn’t.

To learn more about what South Carolinians can expect in the next few weeks and months, WIS sat down with Anthony Alberg. Alberg is a professor and chair of epidemiology and biostatics at the University of South Carolina Arnold School of Public Health.

The following interview was edited for clarity and brevity.

REPORTER: How long can we expect to be quarantined and need to social distance?

ALBERG: It’s difficult to predict the future, so we don’t know how long this will be. But my answer would be that we really need to be prepared for a long haul. We know that for at least a few months we are going to be in a very serious and delicate situation with the spread of this disease.

This is a virus humans have never before been exposed to, so we are all susceptible to infection, to disease, and to death. So, it needs to be taken very seriously.

REPORTER: With so much uncertainty what do we know?

ALBERG: Even with the social distancing and restrictions on movement, what we can anticipate is an increasing number of cases that we are seeing every day. We’ll track the disease, and that will continue as the infection continues to spread based on prior exposures. But in the weeks ahead or months ahead, we will see a steady number of cases a day and eventually a decrease in the number of cases per day.

REPORTER: Will we need to keep up with social distancing and quarantining when the numbers of daily cases start to go down?

ALBERG: When we start to see the decreasing number of cases that’s when we need to apply greater or equal pressure on the social distancing and restrictions of movements to not have it just spike up again… We live in an open society, so even if it seems like South Carolina the number of cases are decreasing every day and things are going well all we need is a new infection in a susceptible population to increase the spread again.

REPORTER: Will it start to go away during the summer like the flu does?

ALBERG: We know the flu virus peaks in winter, but it doesn’t do well in summer season. The best news for us would be if Covid-19 has a similar pattern, but so far from what we are seeing in the Southern Hemisphere that isn’t the case. So we need to prepare for social distancing and restricting population movement for potentially a very long time.

REPORTER: What should younger people make sure to do to slow the spread?

ALBERG: The younger population is the more active population. If they are not adhering to social distancing and really restricting their movements, they are more likely to be exposed and infected. And, then they can obviously develop a serious disease and death. And, they would really be a vector to distributing the disease to other age groups, which is really a very serious issue. And so, all age groups need to be adhering to social distancing and the restriction of movement.

REPORTER: Should South Carolina officials be doing more to restrict people’s movements?

ALBERG: I think to the extent that people are still going to workplaces that are non-essential, and so on that there is room to take more extreme measures. I am pleased with the measures taken so far, but it sounds like it’s possible for them to be stricter.

REPORTER: Have we ever seen anything like this before?

ALBERG: Certainly not in our lifetime. The pandemic of the Spanish Flu in 1918-1919 would be the last historical pandemic that comes to mind.

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