CHICAGO (CBS) — We keep hearing that overall, it looks like we’re flattening the curve in Illinois when it comes to COVID-19 – but we are still seeing new cases.
Dr. Bala Hota, an infectious disease specialist and Chief Analytics Officer at Rush University Medical Center, joined CBS 2’s Brad Edwards and Irika Sargent on “Hour 18” Wednesday to explain what is happening. Edwards noted that a big part of flattening the curve is looking for increases in the doubling rate, and asked what the figure we are now seeing portend.READ MORE: Chicago Weather: Colder And Blustery Sunday Night
“The doubling rate is really the time it takes for the count of new cases to double – it’s that simple. And since the state is releasing pretty transparently each day the number of new cases, really, it’s as straightforward as looking at the number of new cases and how long has it been since it doubled the prior counts,” Hota said. “Early in the epidemic, what we were seeing was that every two days, there was a doubling of the counts, and in New York, for really several weeks, we saw a doubling of cases. As the numbers get bigger and bigger, the doubling really makes the cases grow exponentially.”
But in Illinois lately, the number of days it takes for the case number to double has been increasing – a good sign.
“As an example, about two weeks ago, it was about every two days we would see a doubling. About a week ago, it was every four days. Now we’re up to about every 11 days we double. As it goes higher and higher, what we are starting to see is potentially a peak in the number of cases, and we might eventually start to see a decline,” Hota said.
There has been speculation that the stay-at-home order in Illinois could be lifted or modified as soon as May 1, though it could be extended. Sargent asked Dr. Hota whether the models show a second spike in infections would likely be the outcome if the order is lifted.
He said there are risks.
“Let’s say we have a peak and we start to have a reduction in cases. How do we contain it? How do we continue to see a low number of cases?” Hota said. “And if you wanted to look around the world, Singapore had a big reduction in cases, and then lifted their stay-at-home, and then they ended up having a new outbreak, and the doubling time – rather than growing longer, it actually became shorter again. It went from 60 days down to under 10 days, and that means that there’s more cases.”READ MORE: 5 Killed, 19 Wounded In Chicago Weekend Shootings
Hota echoed Gov. JB Pritzker’s criteria for what would need to be in place for a safe return to relatively more normal conditions. Pritzker has emphasized the need for broader testing, contact tracking, and treatment.
“What we really have to be thinking about is how do we apply testing more broadly? How do we look to see if people are immune? And how do we really understand what’s happening very precisely so if we do need to reinstate some sort of work-from-home policies, we can do it,” Hota said.
Hota studies clusters of infection. Edwards asked whether in particular in the Chicago area and the suburbs whether a move to reopen could be targeted to exclude hot spots.
“I think that we can be really helped the more that we know what is going on in our communities, and the way to get there is more broad testing. There are different models about how you can reopen the economy and re-allow people to go back to work and not shelter at home. The biggest thing is what’s happening – how fast is the virus spreading?” Hota said. “And if we need to, you know, there may be a need in particular communities to shelter at home temporarily to reduce the number of cases.”
Hota emphasized that good news about flattening the curve does not mean it is time for people to stop staying home or stop social distancing.
“I feel like as a state, we have really done a good job about trying to isolate, and we are starting to see the impacts of that. We wouldn’t want to lose those gains. We wouldn’t want to have a situation where we’re starting to see rapid spread again,” Hota said.
He said it comes back to basics such as washing our hands and staying at least six feet away from others, and trying to follow public health recommendations – and also being patient.MORE NEWS: Celebrating Black History Makers: Terrance Wallace Has Brought 10 At-Risk Boys To Live Together In Barrington Hills For A New Life
“We need an orderly way to reinstate and go back to the way things were, but we won’t go fully back to the way things were until we have a vaccine,” Hota said, “and so we need to find some intermediate steps.”