Infectious disease expert says Georgia not ready to 'reopen'

Georgia may be reopening its hair salons Friday, but Emory infectious disease physician Carlos del Rio says he will not be going out for a haircut anytime soon.

He's concerned the state is moving too quickly to reopen certain businesses.

Dr. del Rio told reporters Georgia is not out of the woods because models show the number of patients needing hospitalization has peaked across the state.

"You know, people say, 'We're past the peak, we're done,'" Dr. del Rio says.  "Well, no, we're not done.  And it's no different than saying, 'I am going to go up Mount Everest.  I've gotten to the peak, I'm good! ' No, you still need to come down from the peak, and coming down can be just as dangerous as going up."

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Del Rio says he has not seen a consistent drop in new infections, but he is seeing some hopeful signs.

"What we’re seeing in the hospital, is, we’re seeing a flattening in admissions," he says.  "But. we’re not yet seeing a decline in cases.  I think we’re going to see that decline, and I think we’re going to see it because the transmission is slowing down."

But, del Rio cautions, we're not where we need to be, yet.

For one, Georgia is still behind on testing for COVID-19.

He's encouraging the private sector to work with public health officials to expand testing, and improve contact tracing, or the process of identifying and testing everyone around each new case of the virus.

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He also says he is still very concerned about high-risk Georgians, like people with high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, who are at increased risk of experiencing serious complications from COVID-19.

"I'm concerned about nursing homes," he says.  "I'm concerned about long term care facilities. But, I'm also concerned about the elderly, who are living, they are doing very well, and living healthy, but are 75-years-old.  Because if they get infected, their risk of getting very sick is much, much higher.”

Dr. del Rio bristles at the idea Georgia is “reopening.”

"You hear the news, many people say, 'I'm not comfortable opening my business,'" Dr. del Rio says.  "I think, at the end of the day, people are going to make decisions.  They're going to decide what to do. What we need to emphasize to people, is, continue practicing social distancing.  Continue being careful about what you want to do.   You don't want to get infected.  And, you don't want to bring this back to your family."

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