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What to Watch, Medically, as the State Reopens

May 19, 2020

There are three measurements to watch as society begins to reopen after the COVID-19 lockdown and people start gathering again in churches, restaurants and parks, according to Dr. Ajay Kumar, chief clinical officer with Hartford HealthCare.

The metrics, he said, are:

  • The number of active cases.
  • The number of people hospitalized.
  • The number of people dying from COVID-19.

Predicting that cases of the lethal virus will be diagnosed for months – both in those who can recover from mild infection at home and others who need more acute care in the hospital, including the sickest who will be put on ventilators – Dr. Kumar said the key to getting through will be human behavior.

“We continue to struggle here – with the warm weather, people want to congregate. But, we will be back to square one,” he said, referring to the infection rate, which peaked in Connecticut in late April. “We will need to continue the discipline of social distancing for a long time to come.”

With the state eying a reopening of the economy, he said he anticipates an increase in the number of active cases, although residents’ continued discipline with social distancing should keep the pace of the increase “slower” than the spring.

“Hospitalizations will depend on how we protect our most vulnerable population,” Dr. Kumar said, although he believes these people, mainly the elderly and those in assisted-living facilities, are better protected now by practices put into place since the start of the pandemic.

“I don’t think we’ll see the complete elimination of COVID anytime soon,” he said.

But, he said, the reopening of businesses is happening at the right time based on the statistics and virus patterns.

“I am cautious and optimistic” based on safety measures, he said.

The reopening of schools in the fall, however, are another matter because, Dr. Kumar said, children are largely asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19 who can transfer the virus to others, including the most vulnerable, without knowing. Fitting children into classrooms would also require easing of social distancing guidelines.

“How we adapt to new policies is on us,” he said. “If we take these measures lightly, it (will) set us back.”

He urged people to continue washing their hands regularly, keeping 6 feet apart in public and wearing masks.

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