Americans confront 'very scary' next phase of coronavirus pandemic as new infections spike across the South

Calling the recent surge in coronavirus cases in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona “very scary,” Yahoo News Medical Contributor Dr. Kavita Patel said she fears the virus will continue to flare up in communities around the country throughout the summer.

“If we have this ping-pong effect — you see the Rust Belt, you see the South [where cases have spiked], those people then travel and migrate and then places like Maryland, where I am, get it back again,” Patel said on Yahoo News’ “Skullduggery” podcast. “Then it only ends when we get a vaccine, and that’s what we’re all scared of.”

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As states have lifted restrictions meant to slow the spread of COVID-19 and people have moved around more, Patel said, the virus is more present in neighborhoods, where it then spreads quickly. 

“Beaches, parties, proms: You’ve got all sorts of people, younger ages, getting together and creating what we call superspreader events,” Patel said. “We now have more cases from a spread, which means more virus present. The fact that we don’t have as many people dying from it ... that’s because we’re smarter at taking care of patients in the hospital.”

At Friday’s briefing of the coronavirus task force, Dr. Deborah Birx said that rising positive test rates in states across the South are so concerning to health officials that an “alert” system has been mounted to monitor them. Birx said that in Texas more than 10 percent of COVID-19 tests being administered in the state are now coming back positive, a benchmark the administration has used to flag regions of concern.

The president’s contention that the recent spike in cases in some parts of the country was attributable to increased testing is misleading, Patel said. She asserted that if anything, cases are being undercounted. 

“We’re actually finally testing and understanding about the cases we weren’t picking up before,” Patel said. “Three months ago we were probably picking up 1 in 100 infections. Today we’re probably picking up 1 in 10 infections.”

Patel emphasized the serious consequences the virus can have, including for young adults who appear to be in good health.

“The average length of stay for a 30-year-old with COVID in the hospital is two weeks,” Patel said. “It’s not like they’re just healthy and out the door. There’s a 5 percent mortality rate if you’re 35 years old in Florida and get hospitalized. We’re definitely in a very scary area in this phase.”

Patel said doctors are learning more every day, including more about the long-term effects of the virus. She urged people to wear masks and take precautions to “buy time to get a vaccine, buy time to keep you healthy.”

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