ATLANTA, Ga.(CBS46) -- The recent surge of Coronavirus cases in Georgia has health experts like Dr. Chirag Patel very concerned.
Patel is Medical Director of Population Health at Wellstar Health System which is headquartered in Marietta, Georgia. CBS46 spoke with Dr. Patel today about the risk around holidays like July 4th, the questions parents should be asking schools as they advocate for their kids, and why what happens next with the virus is not about science – it’s about the way you behave.
CBS46: Dr. Patel, what’s the status right now of coronavirus in Georgia?
Dr. Chirag Patel: We’re seeing an uptick in cases. We’re seeing every demographic increase in positivity rate. We’re seeing everything we’re seeing in the other states around us -- Florida, Texas, Arizona, California and it’s very concerning. The U.S has 4 percent of the world’s population but over 25 percent of cases.
CBS46: What type of scenarios do you see playing out?
Dr. Patel: I see a couple of things happening. I see either it continuing to get worse, which means more cases, more deaths, more stress on the economic and healthcare systems.
Or, I see, if you will, a real reckoning by American citizens around their behavior because this is not about the science anymore. If you end up in the hospital you’re going to have good therapeutics, chance of recovery is there, but we really need to look at ourselves and the behaviors we do on a day-to-day basis because that’s what’s going to curtail the spread of the virus.
It’s very simple: Wear a mask. Wash your hands. Watch your distance. If you do those three things you will bend the curve, you’ll protect yourself, you’ll protect others. Without those things, you cannot go back to doing the things that you are used to, graduations, church on Sunday, going to restaurants. You’re not going to be able to do any of those things come the Fall. Football and sports? Not possible.
CBS46: Is this the second wave of COVID-19?
Dr. Patel: No, I think we’re still in the continuation of the first wave. I think we’re still riding that first wave; you know the CDC just recently said that we’ve probably only tested 10 to 15 percent of the actual number of cases we have in the United States because we had some limitations in testing. Just imagine if we had tested more earlier on, where we would be now.
CBS46: Some experts, including Dr. Carlos Del Rio from Emory, have said Memorial Day is the reason for the spike we are seeing now. Any concern about the July 4th holiday weekend, and if so, what message do you have for people?
Dr. Patel: I think Dr. Del Rio is spot on. Memorial Day is probably one of the key reasons we’ve had a huge spike, especially in the South. Everybody was out and about at the beach and the lake.
What I would say to people is this holiday weekend, do what’s necessary to protect our country. Number one, protect ourselves and then protect others who you love. Do the things that are recommended by the healthcare professionals in your community. Adhere to them the best you can. I don’t see this as an infringement on your personal ability to do the things you want. If anything, this is gonna ultimately augment the ability to do the things we love to do on a long-term basis.
CBS46: About heading back to school, we’re seeing a lot of different plans coming out of different districts. Some include virtual learning, some include face-to-face, what do you recommend parents do?
Dr. Patel: Science is changing. The data is always evolving. I think there are a few things you can do. Listen to your school’s proposal and ask the right questions:
- Are we going to be able to pivot if there’s breakouts in the school, to a virtual platform?
- What precautions have you taken in the schools to ensure social distancing?
- Kids are having appropriate lunch time, after school time?
- What is transportation on a bus going to look like?
- And then ultimately, what is the long-term plan? Is there a long-term plan?
And there may not be one, but be an advocate for your child. If there’s ever a time to ask questions, raise concerns, this is it. We’re in the middle of a pandemic. You’re your children’s best advocate.
CBS46: So the death rate in Georgia hasn’t really gone back up and some people are using that as a way to say that coronavirus isn’t really that bad because the death rate hasn’t really moved. But an increase in deaths usually lags behind an increase in cases. What do you think is going to happen?
Dr. Patel: I think what we want to look at is not death rate, but positivity rate – the number of patients who are turning positive over time while testing is going up. That’s a better indicator of community spread than anything else. If we have that, you’re going to be very concerned. Look at Arizona, 20 percent plus positivity rate. Texas, Florida, in the mid-teens. If we get to mid-teens in Georgia, that’s going to indicate we have widespread in the community and we may have to revert back to very strict social distancing guidelines.
CBS46: Do you think we could see another lockdown in the future? Some states are already shutting bars back down and things like that. Is Georgia next?
Dr. Patel: It’s tough to know. What I would say is we had a really strong, sustained response up front. We saw that we were starting to bend the curve in Georgia. And then, I think people started to get relaxed, wanted to be out, the weather got better, Memorial Day came.
I think what’s important is a sustained response around social distancing, a very vigorous reminder from local authorities, state authorities, healthcare providers, to continue to do these things. I think if we continue to do that on a teamwork basis we might not have to close down, but the next couple of weeks are going to be very critical for where we want to be in the Fall, in terms of large events, going back to school and then also what we’re going to be able to do on a day-to-day lifestyle basis. I’m very concerned.
CBS46: Do you think a mask mandate would calm some of that concern for you?
Dr. Patel: I think mandates are always very political. I’ll stay away from that. What I would say as a healthcare provider who gets to come on your platform is to advocate that everybody do whatever is necessary to protect yourself and loved ones, which means wear a mask at all times, when you can. I think that’s the most important thing.
Wash your hands. I mean, that doesn’t seem very political to me.
CBS46: Do you understand though why there is a debate over masks? Or as a medical professional, is that something that doesn’t make much sense to you?
Dr. Patel: I absolutely understand why there’s a debate over the mask. In healthcare, patients want choice, we want every voice honored and it’s the same thing with the masks -- people want to be able to choose whether they wear a mask or not.
It is their right to choose. What I would suggest is choose to wear the mask because it’s what is in your own best interest – it protects yourself, it also protects others and it will also give you the ability to go back to doing the things you love. You want to go to the football game in September? You’re gonna have to curtail this virus if you want to go to the football game, and the only way to do that is for us to wear a mask right now. You want to go to Sunday Bible Study? You’re gonna have to curtail the virus, so wear the mask.