“Epidemics don’t necessarily have a single peak after which the risk subsides,” said Joshua Weitz, Patton Distinguished Professor of Biological Sciences and founding director of the Interdisciplinary Ph.D. in Quantitative Biosciences at the Georgia Institute of Technology. “People’s behaviors are both influenced by and influence epidemic dynamics, potentially driving plateaus, and oscillations in incidence.”
“If people are aware of the severity of the epidemic, they may change their behavior, and if they change their behavior, there will be fewer severe outcomes,” Weitz went on to describe. “But if awareness is short-term, individuals may tire of public health regulations and the virus will come roaring back. Instead of a single peak in cases, there can be plateaus or oscillations balanced between cautious behavior and relaxation.”
But that’s the point: catching a case early may help to isolate individuals before they become highly infectious, thereby stopping chains of transmission before they start. In doing so, we reduce the chance that one case becomes a few and a few cases become many.
Prof. Weitz wrote a guest column in the Atlanta Journal Constitution discussing the potential ramifications of students returning to campus while Covid-19 still runs rampant throughout Georgia.
To understand why Georgia’s colleges and universities are not ready for face-to-face instruction, consider the return of 10,000 undergraduates to campus. How many of those will be infected with SARS-CoV-2? An estimate is possible by observing that in the past two weeks, more than 50,000 new cases have been documented in Georgia, more than 25% of the total cases reported by the Georgia Department of Public Health since the outbreak began.
Weitz referenced the Covid-19 risk assessment tool in his piece, citing that the tool “estimates that there is an approximately 50-50 chance that one (or more) in a classroom of 25 students and one instructor would show up to class infected with SARS-CoV-2.”
Prof. Weitz and research scientist Dr. Stephen Beckett recently published an opinion piece in Slate Magazine discussing Georgia Governor Brian Kemp’s decision to lift lockdown restrictions and re-open the state. Citing concerns about the time delay between a person becoming infected and testing positive for the virus, Beckett and Weitz urge Georgia leaders to reconsider.
If decision-makers in the state of Georgia want to use evidence-based criteria to continue to reopen, they must not conflate reporting lags with actual declines to suit preferred narratives. Instead, they must deal with the evidence as it is, and use evidence-based criteria to take the necessary steps to continue to drive down cases.
Prof. Weitz’s recently published opinion piece in the Atlanta Journal Constitution cites concerns that lifting restrictions in Georgia too soon could increase the severity of Covid-19 in the state.
Last Monday, April 20, Gov. Brian Kemp announced the limited reopening of sectors of Georgia’s economy, effective April 24. The rationale includes the fact that documented cases of COVID-19 appear to have flattened, leading people to wonder: has the danger passed? The answer is simple: no.