Lift­ing re­stric­tions risky

Health ex­pert points to Texas’ virus surge as ‘a warn­ing shot’

Orlando Sentinel - - Front Page - By Elana Schor, Mike Sto­bbe and Michael Kun­zel­man

NEW YORK — On a week­end when many pan­demic-weary peo­ple emerged from weeks of lock­down, lead­ers in the U.S. and Europe weighed the risks and re­wards of lift­ing COVID-19 re­stric­tions know­ing a vac­cine could take years to de­velop.

In sep­a­rate stark warn­ings, two ma­jor Euro­pean lead­ers told their cit­i­zens that the world needs to adapt to liv­ing with the coron­avirus and can­not wait to be saved by a vac­cine.

“We are con­fronting this risk, and we need to ac­cept it, oth­er­wise we would never be able to re­launch,” Ital­ian Premier Giuseppe Conte said, ac­ced­ing to a push by re­gional lead­ers to al­low restau­rants, bars and beach fa­cil­i­ties to open Mon­day, weeks ahead of an ear­lier timetable.

The warn­ings from Conte and Bri­tish Prime Min­is­ter Boris John­son came as gov­ern­ments world­wide and many U.S. states strug­gled with restart­ing economies blind­sided by the pan­demic.

With 36 mil­lion newly un­em­ployed in the U.S. alone, eco­nomic pres­sures are build­ing even as au­thor­i­ties ac­knowl­edge that re­open­ing risks set­ting off new waves of in­fec­tions and deaths. In the U.S., im­ages of crowded bars, beaches and board­walks sug­gested some weren’t heed­ing warn­ings to safely en­joy re­opened spa­ces while lim­it­ing the risks of spread­ing in­fec­tion.

John­son, who was hos­pi­tal­ized last month with COVID-19, spec­u­lated Sun­day that a vac­cine may not be de­vel­oped at all, de­spite the huge global ef­fort to pro­duce one. Health ex­perts say the world could be months, if not years,

away from hav­ing a vac­cine avail­able to ev­ery­one.

“There re­mains a very long way to go, and I must be frank that a vac­cine might not come to fruition,” John­son wrote in the Mail on Sun­day news­pa­per.

Pres­i­dent Don­ald Trump promised Amer­i­cans a speedy re­turn to nor­malcy that sounded far more op­ti­mistic than most ex­perts say is re­al­is­tic.

“We’re look­ing at vac­cines, we’re look­ing at cures and we are very, very far down the line,” he said while call­ing into a char­ity golf tour­na­ment broad­cast Sun­day broad­cast on NBC. “I think that’s not go­ing to be in the very dis­tant fu­ture. But even be­fore that, I think we’ll be back to nor­mal.”

The coron­avirus has in­fected more than 4.7 mil­lion peo­ple and killed more than 314,000 world­wide, ac­cord­ing to a tally by Johns Hop­kins Univer­sity that ex­perts say un­der counts the true toll of the pan­demic. The U.S. has re­ported nearly 90,000 dead, and Europe has seen at least 160,000 deaths.

For most peo­ple, the virus causes mild or mod­er­ate symp­toms. For some, es­pe­cially older adults and peo­ple with health prob­lems, it can cause se­vere ill­ness and lead to death.

Some ex­perts noted re­cent in­fec­tion surges in Texas, in­clud­ing a 1,800-case jump Satur­day, with Amar­illo iden­ti­fied as a grow­ing hot spot. Texas of­fi­cials said in­creased test­ing was play­ing a big role — the more you look for some­thing, the more you find it. Many are watch­ing hos­pi­tal­iza­tions and death rates in the weeks ahead to see what the new Texas num­bers re­ally mean.

But Texas was one of the ear­li­est states to al­low stores and restau­rants to re­open, and some ex­perts worry it is a sign of the kind of out­break reig­ni­tion that might oc­cur when so­cial dis­tanc­ing and other preven­tion mea­sures are loos­ened or ig­nored.

Dr. Michael Saag at the Univer­sity of Alabama at Birm­ing­ham called Texas “a warn­ing shot” for states to closely watch any surges in cases and have plans to swiftly take steps to stop them.

“No one knows for sure ex­actly the right way for­ward, and what I think we’re wit­ness­ing is a gi­ant na­tional ex­per­i­ment,” said Saag, an in­fec­tious diseases re­searcher.

Many states have lifted stay-at-home or­ders and other re­stric­tions, al­low­ing some types of busi­nesses to re­open.

Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine, a Repub­li­can, told CNN on Sun­day that he was con­cerned to see im­ages of a crowded bar in Colum­bus on the first day that out­door din­ing estab­lish­ments were al­lowed to re­open.

“We made the de­ci­sion to start open­ing up Ohio, and about 90% of our econ­omy is back open, be­cause we thought it was a huge risk not to open,” he said. “But we also know it’s a huge risk in open­ing.”

Florida Gov. Ron DeSan­tis has sug­gested early pre­dic­tions were overblown, as he at­tempts to lure res­i­dents back to pub­lic life and help re­build the state’s bat­tered econ­omy.

On Mon­day, Florida restau­rants will be al­lowed to op­er­ate at 50% ca­pac­ity, as can re­tail shops, mu­se­ums and li­braries. Gyms can also be­gin re­open­ing.

Paula Wal­borsky, a 74-year-old re­tired at­tor­ney in Tal­la­has­see, has re­sisted the temp­ta­tion to get her hair done and turned down din­ner in­vi­ta­tions from close friends.

But when one of her city’s pub­lic swim­ming pools re­opened by ap­point­ment, she de­cided to test the wa­ters. Just a hand­ful of other swim­mers shared the wa­ter as she swam laps and did wa­ter aer­o­bics.

“I was so ex­cited to be back in the wa­ter, and it just felt won­der­ful,” Wal­borsky said.

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