Coronavirus cases may be 'near a plateau': Johns Hopkins doctor

Dr. Thomas Inglesby says it will 'take time' for case numbers to begin to fall

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Director of the Center for Health Security of the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health Dr. Thomas Inglesby told "Fox News Sunday" host Chris Wallace that we may be nearing a plateau in coronavirus cases in the United States.

"It looks like in the last few days, if you look across the country and you average out the numbers, that we are near a plateau in the number of cases," he said.

However, Inglesby says that a plateau doesn't necessarily mean that we will immediately see a drop in overall cases.

"It could be that this plateau carries on for a while," Inglesby added. "We've seen in other countries where they've started to have lower case counts over time that it could take days or weeks for the numbers to even get cut in half. So I think while we may be at a peak, we hope we are, it's still going to take time for us to start to bring the case numbers down especially in the places which are the biggest hot spots."

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When it comes to tracking the coronavirus, Inglesby says that "all models are just approximations" with their own strengths and limits, so he isn't "confident in any particular model" to give a specific timeline as to when we will see an end to the virus. Instead, it depends on what we do collectively as a country.

"I think it's hard to see out beyond a couple of weeks," he said. "This isn't preordained what the final outcome will be in terms of overall numbers. It depends on our collective reaction, what we do with social distancing, whether or not we develop therapies over time that work, our overall ability to track cases and to build public health capacity around the country, that's going to be crucial for us to try and get control of this over time."

Workers at a homeless shelter wear protective gear Friday in Boston. (AP Photo/Michael Dwyer)

He did say, however, that if we acted on warnings of the coronavirus earlier "we would be in a much better position in terms of diagnostics, and possibly masks and personal protective equipment and getting our hospitals ready." As a result, he feels that reopening the U.S. by the end of the month would be premature.

"I think it's going to be too soon, unfortunately, by the end of this month," he said. "The numbers aren’t going to be anywhere close in many places to do that for the whole country."

Inglesby believes that if we aren't careful in the way we ease social distancing measures, we could "recreate the conditions that existed back in early March."

"We could have another peak in the way we had this month," he warned. "So we’re going to have to be really careful about it, think about keeping people at safe distances from each other whenever possible, wearing cloth masks, [and] putting up physical barriers in workspaces if that’s possible."

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While Inglesby sees June as a more realistic target for the U.S. to reopen, the country would need to build up its "public health capacity" and "diagnostic testing ability" across the country before doing so.

"We need to have the capacity so that if someone says 'I feel like if they are getting a flu or pneumonia,' they can walk in to a clinic or hospital or testing center and get that case that day and get those results hopefully that day so they can get in isolation and we can identify their contacts."

He also feels that contact tracing, which has been used to bring the number of cases "way down" in places like South Korea, is essential to beating the virus.

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In addition, Inglesby says that we need the World Health Organization's help if we're going to recover from the coronavirus and "get back to normalcy around the world."

"The U.S. needs the WHO to function properly," he said. "It is the organization that helps the world get prepared and respond to this."

(Photos: Reuters and AP)

President Trump and WHO Director General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus traded jabs last week after Trump announced he would consider cutting funding to the World Health Organization over their response to the coronavirus, saying the organization called "nearly every aspect" of the coronavirus wrong and seems to "always err on the side of China."

Inglesby, however, doesn't agree with Trump's claims.

"I don't think that they have been favoring one country over another," he said. "It's a really difficult situation, but overall I think the U.S. should continue to do what it's been doing over time, which is work very closely with the World Health Organization and support its work."

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According to the latest update from Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 1.8 million confirmed coronavirus cases worldwide, more than 530,000 of which are in the United States alone.