As coronavirus cases continue to spread around the world, American officials acknowledged this week that cases of COVID-19, the illness caused by the virus, are likely to become much more widespread across the nation. That announcement comes amid a rush of developments surrounding the outbreak, including: reports of a potential vaccine, a shift in the majority of new cases to nations outside of China for the first time, the emergence of cases in California and Germany with no obvious source of transmission, the monthlong closure of Japanese schools, and the continued decline in global financial markets over economic downturn fears.
Public health officials, however, have expressed cautious optimism over evidence that China’s drastic control measures, such as strict travel restrictions, lockdown of some cities, and the closure of factories, businesses, and schools, seem to have been effective.
The Gazette spoke with Marc Lipsitch an epidemiologist and head of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Center for Communicable Disease Dynamics, about the course of the epidemic, including the still-unresolved question of its effect on children.
GAZETTE: For the first time, the number of new cases outside of China was higher than those inside of China. Is that due to the daily fluctuation in case numbers or might it represent an inflection point in the course of the epidemic?
LIPSITCH: I don’t know. I would want to see something happening for several days before characterizing it, but the evidence is now pretty strong that China’s approach to very, very intense social distancing has really paid off in terms of reducing transmission. The WHO mission came back confirming that, and, from what I’ve been able to learn, it really is true. That’s encouraging, but at the same time, other countries are discovering that they have lots of cases and don’t have those kinds of measures in place. I also don’t think that China is out of the woods. I don’t think any country can keep that kind of social distancing in place indefinitely. In fact, China, from what I understand, is trying to go slowly back to work, so there’s a risk that it will resurge there.