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UW Expert: We’ve passed the peak locally, but opening isn’t on/off switch

Workers at UW Medicine's drive-through testing facility. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

Assessing where Washington state is in the long-term fight against coronavirus is difficult. We checked in with the head of University of Washington’s Virology lab Dr. Keith Jerome. How would he assess Washington state’s progress on the virus?

“Well, I think Washington state’s done incredibly well and really should stand as a model for the rest of the country. We’re clearly past the peak, at least of this part of our local outbreak. We’re seeing the frequency of infection scaling down and we’re also seeing the positivity rate in our own testing in our lab going down,” he said.

As Dave noted, it feels like a hollow victory because the way we succeeded was by hiding. But that doesn’t give us any immunity. And now we have people talking about trying to get back to some semblance of normal within a month, and some predictions indicating that the moment we do that the infection rate will go back up.

“Well, I think what people need to understand is that opening up isn’t an on/off switch. It’s not like turning the lights on in your bedroom. This is going to be have to be a very careful or slow process and we really need to think about what are the most critical things that we need to get going now,” he said.

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“Then we need to be really thoughtful about how we can do that as safely as possible so that we really minimize the transmission of this virus. I think there will probably be unfortunately some false starts as we figure this out,” he said.

“But you’re still going to hear about physical distancing and there’s gonna be masks and there’s going to be limitations about how many people can gather, and a lot of those things aren’t going to seem like they changed very much.”

The coronavirus testing bottleneck

Regarding testing, we’ve heard the vice president saying that the machines are out there and it’s up to the states to find them, take them out of the closets and use them. What’s behind the testing bottleneck?

“Right now we’re still dealing with the shortage of the swabs and the testing kits … Once those come to the lab, we have plenty of capacity to run them. It’s just been difficult in getting enough swabs and the media that they’re put in once they’re taken and get transported to us,” he said.

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“The universities made a big effort, made direct contact with China to try to get some of those. We’re working with a big group here in the United States that’s developing ways to 3D print those swabs so that we can make them right here very quickly without needing a bunch of new equipment to do that. So I think we’re going to see that shortage of swabs really be solved over the next hopefully week or two, and we’ll see more testing being available.”

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