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UW Dr. Rabinowitz: ‘We’re headed for the worst part of the epidemic’

Only essential business and services remain open in Washington state after Gov. Jay Inslee announced the "Stay Home, Stay Healthy" order to help slow the spread of coronavirus. (Getty Images)

As the numbers across the country of those who have tested positive for COVID-19 continue to rise, Dr. Peter Rabinowitz, director of the UW MetaCenter for Pandemic Preparedness, issued a warning.

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“We’re heading for the worst part of the epidemic,” he told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “If you look at the curves of how the cases are adding up, we are still adding up, we are not at the top yet. I feel we are heading into the worst of it right now.”

In other words, the curve has not yet started to flatten.

As of Tuesday morning, the state of Washington had reported more than 2,000 confirmed cases with 225 new cases in the previous 24 hours. With more testing comes more positives, and Dr. Rabinowitz cautioned that it should be assumed there are a lot more cases out there.

Will the newest measures Washington is taking with the stay-at-home order be enough to make an impact? Dr. Rabinowitz believes there is work to be done.

“I still think that people are not taking it quite seriously enough, and understanding young people need to know that they can get sick as well,” he said. “Some people are getting really sick in all ages. I’m seeing some progress and certainly less traffic but I think we are still not quite at the point, if you look at the Washington cases, they go up every day, and we are not at the top of the peak for Washington state. So I think that hopefully everybody is going to take this latest order seriously and do something about it.”

A two-week shutdown is viewed by those in the medical community as merely a start.

President Trump in recent days has indicated that his preference is to pull back on the orders and get people back to work. Co-host Gee Scott asked for the doctor’s reaction to Trump’s declaration that “America will soon be open for business, a lot sooner than the three or four months somebody was suggesting,” and that what the country is currently dealing with is a “medical problem” that he will not allow to turn into a “financial problem.”

“I think that this is a problem where the economy and the health are very closely tied together,” Rabinowitz said. “You can’t really say it’s a medical problem, not a larger societal problem. If the epidemic is not controlled, that has a really bad effect on the economy in many ways that are really drastic versus the impact on the economy, which is significant.”

The solution? Keep moving forward, as painful as it may be. However, that does not mean battles cannot be fought to improve the economy while most Americans are at home.

“This is not the time to start relaxing the measures,” Rabinowitz said. “At the same time, I think we have to take the advantage now at shifting the way we are working being the idea that the U.S. is not closing down for business, but we have to shift to different types of working very aggressively so that we can handle something like this in case it takes a while. We can’t just assume that life is going to go back to normal exactly the way it was in two weeks, that’s just not realistic. We have to get ready for a longer period of containment measures and find ways to do everything we can to support people and keep the economy going.”

Dr. Rabinowitz sees a long road ahead but there are examples to strive for.

Quarantine complete: How Taiwan quickly contained the coronavirus

“In China, they went two months of hard measures to produce results of the epidemic really slowing down and coming to a halt,” he said. “Now they have to be very careful as they open up again that this is not going to come back. … We have to follow some of the lessons from other countries and not relax things too early or we are just going to be in the situation that all of the effort that has already been done will just have been for naught. But we have to up our game, not pull back at this point, but find a way to do everything we can to keep the economic health of people, and unemployment, and everything because health and the economy really are intertwined.”

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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