President Trump is eager to lift coronavirus restrictions despite major upticks in infections across several US states. Experts criticize him for ignoring scientific data. A California doctor shared his concerns with DW.
DW: Is the United States ready to get back to normal, something that President Trump is pushing for?
Dr. Chad Krilich: We're not done with the pandemic. In the state of California, the infection rate is 1.17 [meaning one person with coronavirus infects 1.17 other people, the ed.]. If you go back two weeks ago, it was 1.16. One month ago, it was 1.13. Two months ago, it was 0.99.
So the infection rate is increasing.
Correct. If you look at the beginning of the corona-crisis in February, it was 2.49. Shelter-in-place started March 19 in California and then we saw the infection rate go to under 1, so the virus wasn't spreading. At the point of reopening around May 25, we've seen a rise. It's not back to where it was in March, but there's still evidence to suggest the virus spreading.
Have you seen a reflection of these numbers at the hospitals that you work at?
Yes. St Joseph's owns and operates around 50 hospitals in states including Texas, California, Washington, Oregon, Alaska and Montana. We've definitely seen the initial uptick - Washington state was where the first corona-patient was hospitalized in the United States. In all these different places we have then seen a decrease. But now we're seeing a secondary rise of hospitalizations.
To what extent should people worry about this?
It's something that we need to be aware of. As we've seen the cases fall and now go back up, we need to make sure that we have the capacity to take care of patients, that we have enough protective equipment for our caregivers and are equipped in terms of testing and medications.
What are you most concerned about with this pandemic?
I'm most concerned about people not following the general guidance that comes from our public health officers. Their intention is to reduce the mortality rate among people who live in their communities. I'm concerned that people don't wear masks, people won't be socially distant.
At the same time, I'm also concerned about the effects that the pandemic has for non-coronavirus-related diseases. Some of the data suggests that patients are not seeking care from their primary care provider or come into the hospital. They're delaying that care and it's leading to worse health outcomes. We're also starting to see data that suggests that because people are fearful to come in and are sheltering in place, they're not getting their chronic conditions cared for. We're seeing less colon cancer screening, less breast cancer screening.
What do you want from public officials on a city, state or federal level?
The best thing to do as we're managing this is to look at the data. We're trying to make decisions based on the best evidence that is out there. I acknowledge that in the middle of this [pandemic], it's easy to make decisions that are influenced by things that aren't data-driven. But we in health care know that using the evidence leads to better outcomes for patients. Across the board, whether it's county officials, state or federal, or organizations like the World Health Organization, I think they need to make sure that the decisions and the recommendations that they're bringing forth are really grounded in data.
From looking at the numbers available now, where do you see this pandemic going?
It's kind of like a three-act play and we're currently in the second act. There will be a third act. When we look at when the influenza will come, we know there'll be a third wave. Obviously, all of this will be affected by how we behave socially and whether there is going to be a vaccine and those sorts of things.
Do you think there will be a vaccine soon?
I think that's wishful thinking. There's lots of people doing amazing work. There's progress being made, but in terms of [a concrete date], we have nothing to suggest when that is.
Dr. Chad Krilich is the chief medical officer for St. Joseph Health in Sonoma County, California, where he supports two hospitals. Krilich has been a family physician for more than 10 years.
This interview has been shortened and edited for clarity.