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Will Reopening Too Quickly Feed Second Wave of COVID-19?

May 04, 2020

Anticipating a second wave of the COVID-19 virus this fall, Dr. Faiqa Cheema, a Hartford HealthCare infectious disease specialist, cautioned politicians and residents to relax social distancing guidelines in a methodical, responsible way.

“My concern is (reopening too quickly) will most likely lead to a rebound of the outbreak and we’ll see ourselves in a second surge,” Dr. Cheema said. “That may prove to be quite catastrophic for our already fractured healthcare system. Our frontline workers – we’re really emotionally and physically struggling at this point.”

State governments across the country are allowing businesses, restaurants and recreational facilities to reopen to varying degrees, but she said it’s time to be especially cautious and even leave some restrictions in place.

Hospitals, for example, will likely maintain visitor and access restrictions put into place in March as the pandemic began to spread across the country, she predicted.

“Currently, what we’re doing is all hospitals are on shutdown with no visitors allowed,” Dr. Cheema said. “I think that will continue for an extended period of time until we feel comfortable we have some level of control over this virus. We’re screening every worker entering the hospital. We have limited points of entry. I think that will continue through the end of this year.”

While the Hartford region has likely experienced the peak in hospitalizations due to COVID-19, per the tracking algorithm developed through HHC’s partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, she said there is still quite a bit of person-to-person virus transmission happening.

The virus is also affecting the healthcare workforce, with increased numbers of frontline workers falling ill.

“We run into problems when our healthcare workers get sick with this virus, which is we’re encountering at this time. We’re seeing a lot of staff getting sick despite the use of precautions,” Dr. Cheema said, noting that it’s hard to know where staff members are exposed since there are many asymptomatic people in the community who can transmit disease unknowingly.

She reiterated the call by other HHC clinical leaders for broad testing of the community.

“The best course of action,” she said, “would be have a plan to detect, test, treat and isolate and do contact tracing of every individual who has come into contact with COVID-19, has been exposed to this infection or tested positive for this disease.”

She said testing is more than just producing more swabs as enabled under the president’s enactment of the Defense Production Act designed to spur manufacturing. Programs like HHC’s mobile testing unit will help get the tests to everyone who needs one.

“If we see a second surge, all the efforts we’ve done so far – taking our kids out of school, asking people to stay at home – will be in vain,” she said.

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