COVID-19 may resurge if outbreak subsides by fall, UC Berkeley professor says

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UC Berkeley public health professor Arthur Reingold said a resurgence of COVID-19, or the novel coronavirus, is nearly certain if the disease dissipates this summer in a livestream as part of a campus virtual conversation series that kicked off Friday.

The series will include discussions surrounding epidemiological, economic and analytical ways to understand the pandemic; it is accordingly named “Berkeley Conversations: COVID-19.Conversations will take place weekly going forward this semester.

On Friday’s livestream, campus spokesperson Dan Mogulof moderated a Q&A with Reingold, division head of epidemiology and biostatistics, and Jennifer Chayes, associate provost of the Division of Computing, Data Science and Society and dean of the School of Information. The two are campus leaders in epidemiology and data science, respectively. As of press time, about 6,400 people had tuned in to listen to their expert opinions on the current pandemic.

“If the virus goes away during the summer, like the way a flu virus does, it is very likely our population will still be susceptible,” Reingold said during the event. “The virus will not have disappeared from the planet. So, we have to be prepared for a possible resurgence.”

Reingold discussed the “harsh realities” that are necessary to understand in order to predict when California’s stay-at-home order may end for a majority of the state. He said, however, the signs that will signal an appropriate time to reign in social distancing orders will likely be sharp declines in overall COVID-19 hospitalizations, deaths and transmissions.

Though he argued that no one truly knows when the practice of social distancing, as it is currently understood, may be suspended, he said it is not likely that a vaccine will be produced until next year at the earliest.

In addition, Reingold and Chayes agreed that California’s situation as a state differs from that of the rest of the country. This is in part due to the differences in lockdown orders and how seriously the crisis has been taken by elected officials, according to Reingold. As a result, he said, the Bay Area and the rest of California may see a decrease in cases before other communities across the United States.

“Unfortunately, we still have people that are not taking this seriously,” Reingold said during the event. “We don’t really have one national epidemic. We have localized situations.”

Dispelling misinformation, data literacy, mask recommendations and a lack of testing were among the other topics touched on during the Q&A.

Both Reingold and Chayes also discussed the work UC Berkeley researchers have taken on to address various parts of the ongoing epidemic. Reingold added that a variety of work pertaining to COVID-19 is taking place across campus in disciplines including public health, bioengineering, chemistry, molecular biology and anthropology.

“The Berkeley community has really, really stepped up,” Chayes said during the event. “Everybody is trying to bring their expertise to bear to help us all emerge from this.”

Contact Rachel Barber at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @rachelbarber_.