KIMT NEWS 3 - KIMT News 3 spoke on the phone Monday afternoon with Michael Osterholm, Director of Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota about Covid-19.
Osterholm says researchers are right on track with predictions, but the next several months are uncharted territory.
"Now we're in a place where in terms of how it will play out in these communities is unclear and we can only hope that we don't have the kind of case numbers that have been projected, but then again we realize hope is not a strategy and at this point we can only anticipate what might be coming," he says.
He tells KIMT it's hard to tell when the virus will run its course, but it could be at least 6 months. He believes the U.S. could even see some residual cases in the fall. He tells KIMT the country will likely see rolling cases of the virus, where for periods of time the virus will be very active in some areas with very few cases in others. In about 2 months, low-activity areas could see a big spike.
"The truth is that this is going to be a very significant event, one that none of us have seen really since 1918. However, just as we got through it in 1918, we'll get through this one too. In the meantime, there surely will be some real challenges," says Osterholm.
Social distancing is key to slowing the spread of the virus. Osterholm tells KIMT that handwashing and keeping 6+ feet of distance from someone will have minimal effects in reducing disease transmission. An infected person dispels tiny particles into the air containing the virus, meaning that just being in the same area as someone who has the virus can be risky.
"In fact just breathing, talking will also create these aerosols and I think the bottom line is this is a very, very dynamically transmitted disease. Look at how many countries are involved already, how extensive transmission occurs. And I think we just have to realize that when you're in close contact with people, even not just 2-6 feet away, that this can be a real challenge," he explains.
When asked about what kind of impact closing Minnesota schools for 10+ days will have on virus spread, Osterholm concedes the impact will be minimal.
"It's a good opportunity to look at what might happen long term in terms of future school closings. We know with influenza, if you close schools for 1-2 weeks, there's a slight decrease temporarily in he number of flu cases in kids but it bounces right back up and in the end of the season, the numbers are very same between the different time periods between when you were in school and when you weren't," he says. He also has concerns about how school closings will affect healthcare workers, as 20% of healthcare workers will have no choice but to stay home from work to be with their children.
Osterholm tells KIMT some of the best models U.S. researchers have show that between 160 and 214 million people could be infected over the next 6-8 months.