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Rutgers professors discuss potential for second coronavirus lockdown in US

Emily Barrett, an associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, said coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases are rising due to people becoming tired of the virus and becoming less conscious of safety precautions. – Photo by Rutgers.edu

The rising number of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) cases across the U.S. could potentially result in another lockdown, said David Alland, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases and a professor in the Department of Medicine at the Rutgers New Jersey Medical School.

“I think that it's unlikely the entire country will have to go into lockdown, certainly at the same time, but it looks increasingly likely as the colder months come on that parts of the country will definitely benefit from that,” he said.

Alland said COVID-19 cases are now much more widespread and higher in number compared to earlier in the pandemic. Cases are also more focused in the central and northern states rather than the coasts like before, but increases on the east coast can be expected again, he said.

“We're certainly seeing that now in New Jersey, with the number of hospitalizations in our own hospitals going up quite dramatically,” Alland said.

Emily Barrett, an associate professor in the Department of Biostatistics and Epidemiology, said the rising cases are especially concerning because of how widespread the surge is.

“If you look at a U.S. map of ‘hot spots,’ you’ll see that infections are on the rise across virtually the entire country, whereas at the beginning of the pandemic, most cases were concentrated in certain areas (like New York and New Jersey),” she said.

COVID-19 cases are rising sharply across other parts of the world as well, which Barrett said is a result of people becoming tired of the virus and not being vigilant about safety precautions. 

Alland said the recently announced Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine might affect lockdown decisions, depending on what it will specifically protect against: deaths, mild infections, asymptomatic infections or all three. Broad protection could produce a dramatic effect as the vaccine develops and penetrates across the country, he said.

He said the idea of going into a lockdown is more of a political decision rather than a medical one, but lockdowns would likely be beneficial in states where COVID-19 has not been controlled.

“I think that it's clear that the incidence rates are different in each state,” he said. “One approach is to tailor-make the response to the places where there are problems ... with epidemics, the typical response is to focus on where the problem is.”

Another approach is to lock down the entire country, but Alland said this is hard to do politically and may not be more efficient than focusing on where the problem is.

Barrett said a true lockdown would drastically reduce the spread of the virus, but there are many political and economic factors that make the situation more complicated. 

“A national level mandated lockdown would be most effective given that in some states there seems to be (COVID-19) denial and little public support for lockdown measures,” she said. “To me, health and safety (are) foremost so I think it would be worth it. The economy will recover, but we can’t recoup all of the lives lost.”


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