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Person to person still most likely way to catch COVID-19, expert says. But 'way too early' to know if social distancing is stemming the spread

Person to person still most likely way to catch COVID-19, expert says. But 'way too early' to know if social distancing is stemming the spread

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Dr. Douglas Drevets, OU Medicine chief of infectious diseases

While too early in the fight to answer most COVID-19 questions conclusively, there’s little mystery about how it spreads.

The most likely way is still person to person, a leading state infectious disease expert affirmed Monday.

The virus can survive on door handles and other surfaces for one to two days, and people should be wary of that, Dr. Douglas Drevets added.

“But you are still much more likely to get it directly — from the droplets that you may inhale or contact when somebody else is speaking or coughing — rather than by picking up a newspaper that somebody touched a day ago.”

Drevets, OU Medicine chief of infectious diseases, talked about the current state of the pandemic response Monday, while fielding questions during a special online interview session.

OU Medicine plans to make one of its experts available daily for pandemic-related questions going forward, officials announced.

Numbers released by the state earlier in the day showed 481 cases of the virus had been identified statewide.

Drevets said he estimates the true number to be closer to 5,000.

With the current level of testing in Oklahoma, “I’m guessing that we are identifying one out of every 10,” he said.

Drevets said the latest data only confirms how contagious COVID-19 is, with on average, one case going on to spread to three other individuals.

Using a formula that projects how many new cases are caused by one case, seasonal influenza is at about 1.4, he said. The flu of 1918, the Hong Kong flu and the swine flu yielded between 1.5 and 1.8 new cases from one. COVID-19 is at 2.75.

As for whether social distancing is working to halt the spread in the U.S., “it’s way too early to tell,” Drevets said.

“I think what it is being effective at is getting us all aware that this is a real problem and that we need to take it seriously,” he said.

Evidence from around the world strongly suggests that social distancing, combined with other tactics, does work, he added.

“There is reason to believe that. It’s not the only thing that we can do, but it is a key part of what we must do.”

Among the infected, so far males are dying at a higher rate than females, both in Oklahoma and worldwide.

“But our numbers are still small, so stay tuned,” Drevets said.

Meanwhile, children and young adults continue to fare well overall, he said.

Drevets also tried to answer questions about those who’ve had the virus.

Such as, can they get it again?

“People are desperately looking at that question and I suspect that will be answered by the end of next month,” he said. “In general, there is reasonable data to suggest that once you’ve had the illness, you do develop a degree of immunity.”

Also, after someone has recovered, can they still infect others?

“It’s still not clear when you are no longer a danger,” Drevets said. “I think if you’ve had the infection, it’s best to socially distance yourself from folks — isolate, wear a mask — until one to two weeks after symptoms have cleared.”

Looking ahead, Drevets said life will not be the same after the pandemic.

“It will be a new normal,” he said. “We can see that from historical reports of the 1918 pandemic. It will change things.”

It will be a long time, he added, before we can say we “gained control.”

“Several things have to happen. First of all, there’s robust testing — I mean, 10 to 100 times the capability that we have right now. We also need effective drugs and those are being worked on very rapidly. We need a good vaccine. That’s still a minimum of a year, year and a half out.”


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