Coronavirus Will Not Slow Until 60-70% Are Infected, Disease Expert Says

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By , 830 WCCO

On Tuesday, Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force, expressed a fear that if cities and states do not adhere to the government's guidelines on when and how they can begin to reopen, there could be more COVID-19 outbreaks.

Wednesday, Dr. Michael Osterholm talked to Dave Lee about that testimony, and what we should expect this fall.  

"Well first, I think Tony's comments right were on the mark," said Osterholm, who is the University of Minnesota's Director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy. "You know, Fauci just told the truth as it is and helped give us all a sense that we do have some pretty potentially tough days ahead of us."

The Minnesota Department of Health reported on their daily call Tuesday that we've seen nearly 12,500 lab-confirmed cases of coronavirus and 614 deaths in Minnesota.  Globally, there are 4.28 million confirmed cases and over 290,000 deaths so far. Osterholm put those mortality numbers into historical context. 

"Just 70 plus days ago,COVID-19 was not even among the top hundred causes of death in this country," said Osterholm. "And this past month, it has been the number one cause of death in the country, surpassing heart disease, cancer, accidents, et cetera. Nothing has done that in the public health arena since 1918 when the swine flu virus spread throughout the country."

Over the past week, Dr. Fauci has been warning of a rebound of the virus this fall. Osterholm says we really don't know what to expect yet, but he does say we have a long ways to go.

"What we do know is this virus will continue to transmit, and will basically seek out anyone and everyone that it can, " Osterholm said on the WCCO Morning News. "In fact, we estimate that in this country, between 5% to 20% of the population has already been infected. I say 20% is largely in just a couple areas around New York City. Much of the country is closer to the 5% level."

"And why that's important is because when you think about all the pain, misery, death, economic disruption that's occurred, it's only occurred with really still a minor hit in terms of the population of this country."

"And this virus will not slow down its transmission until it gets to at least 60% or 70% of the population infected, who then have immunity. And we are hopeful for that, that they have immunity. Then we achieve what we call herd immunity where basically, so many people are protected that the virus transmission slows down."

Osterholm went on to explain that just because we see the spread slow down, it can come back with a vengeance.

"What we don't know is how it's going to get there. We put out a document several weeks ago, it was different scenarios, one where it might be an influenza-like pattern that we've seen in previous pandemics with influenza, or we'd have this initial peak of cases for several months."

"It kind of goes away literally in the sense we don't understand where the virus goes or what happens. But then it comes back with a very, very large peak in several more months. Which could be quite devastating."

"Or it could, because it's a coronavirus, not a flu virus, just continue to burn on like it is right now. But the bottom line message is it's to get to that 60% to 70% either through human infections or if we're lucky and things work out, we get an effective vaccine in the next year that we still have people who can be protected by the vaccine."

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