When Will Mass. Start To See The Infection Curve Go Down?

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The drive-in and walk-in testing station at Bowdoin Street Health Center in Dorchester, Mass. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)
The drive-in and walk-in testing station at Bowdoin Street Health Center in Dorchester, Mass. (Robin Lubbock/WBUR)

More than 4,000 people have now died from COVID-19 in Massachusetts, which means the commonwealth has the fourth highest official death toll related to the coronavirus in the country.

And the rate of newly confirmed cases and deaths remains steady in the state.

So, when will we start to see the backend of this so-called infection curve?

For perspective on this, WBUR's Morning Edition turned to Dr. David Hamer, a professor of global health and medicine at Boston University, and an infectious disease specialist at Boston Medical Center.

Interview Highlights

On when the current plateau in COVID-19-related deaths will start to decline

Hamer: "I actually think that we're at the end of the plateau and there's a gradual decline in new infections – at least hospitalizations for new infections. This is based on data ... from around the Boston area. Boston Medical Center, for example, has started to see a gradual drop-off. So I think the plateau was really last week and that we should see a progressive decline over the next few weeks. Unfortunately, I think it may be a more gradual decline than some of the initial graphs had estimated, which suggested a very rapid fall."

Does the gradual decline in cases correlate to the gradual climb to the peak?

Hamer: "Yes. I think this is an impact of the social distancing measures. So technically it's flattened the curve; spread it out over more time. That's why we had a fairly prolonged plateau. And I think that... it's going to take several weeks to get down to much smaller numbers."

On tensions between the need for social distancing and the pressures of cabin fever

Hamer: "A couple of things: One is ... I was out too, over the weekend. Almost everyone was wearing masks. People were keeping apart... There were yard parties, but people were sitting 6, 8 feet apart.

"And if you're out in the fresh air with wind currents and all, if there's any aerosol that might contain SARS-CoV-2, it's going to be rapidly spread around and not be infectious. More worrisome situations are when you're in a store or some place where there may not be great air circulation, that's when one needs to be really cautious with distancing."

On the state-wide order for residents to wear face masks in public when they cannot keep a proper distance from others

Hamer: "It's interesting to see that this has already started in certain cities around the state... I think that this is important because we learn a lot about pre-symptomatic transmission – where people become infected, shed a lot of virus early, but have no symptoms. If they're wearing masks, that's going to help reduce the spread to others. How protective the mask is for somebody who's not infected remains, at least for now, an open question..."

On the likelihood that Gov. Charlie Baker will extend the order for non-essential businesses to remain closed beyond May 18

Hamer: "I think there's a fairly good likelihood that they'll be extended to the beginning of June."

On the likelihood that the coronavirus will return in the fall

Hamer: "I think there is a substantial risk of a return, yes. We need to really have systems in place. You know, the tests widely, to do contact tracing and identify clusters. And we need to be concerned about importation of the virus from other parts of the world."

This article was originally published on May 04, 2020.

This segment aired on May 4, 2020.

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