WHO Warns 1st Wave Of COVID-19 Cases May Peak Again — Soon

May 27, 2020
Originally published on May 27, 2020 8:03 am
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RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

As we approach 100,000 deaths from the coronavirus here in the U.S., the world's top health officials are warning that coronavirus infections could go back up in the middle of this current outbreak. They're worried about countries, including the United States, lifting restrictions too quickly. This is separate from the so-called second wave expected to happen in the fall. Here's Dr. Michael Ryan, the director of the World Health Organization's emergencies program speaking yesterday.

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MICHAEL RYAN: We cannot make assumptions that just because the disease is on the way down now, that it's going to keep going down and we're going to get a number of months to get ready for a second wave. We may get a second peak in this wave.

MARTIN: I'm joined now by Dr. Margaret Harris, a member of the WHO's coronavirus response team and a WHO spokesperson. Thank you so much for being with us, Dr. Harris.

MARGARET HARRIS: Thank you very much for having me, Rachel.

MARTIN: Can you just explain more what the concern is about a potential second peak in infections during this current moment, this current outbreak?

HARRIS: So we're seeing, with different countries, quite different patterns. And what needs to be understood is this coronavirus is not the flu. So a lot of people have put what I'd call a flu lens on their expectations. They keep on thinking it's seasonal. But if you look around the globe, we've got countries in the middle of their summer and autumn having large, large outbreaks. So we're not seeing a seasonal pattern. What we are seeing is, indeed, when people ease too quickly, that they do then see a rise in infections. So we certainly don't say you have to be in lockdown, but we're saying ease carefully.

MARTIN: So what are you advising the U.S. and other countries to do to prevent a second peak?

HARRIS: So first of all, know your transmission. And this - of course, the U.S. is a huge country. You've got many, many different states, communities, cities experiencing very different transmission. So they all have their own outbreaks at different stages. So therefore, of course, they need to pace it according to what's really going on. So how do you know that? You have to be testing. You have to be tracking. And you have to have very clear eyes on what's happening with the transmission in your community so that you can pick your moment.

MARTIN: Has the WHO been in conversation with the Trump administration about the urgent need for more testing?

HARRIS: We're in conversation with administrations, with health authorities, with health experts around the world all the time. These discussions go on continuously.

MARTIN: But I don't have to tell you about the tension between the United States, the Trump administration and the WHO. President Trump has threatened to pull U.S. funding for the WHO or just leave altogether. I mean, given those tensions, are you concerned that the U.S. is not heeding the advice or the guidance from the WHO?

HARRIS: The U.S. is a fantastic partner, and the U.S. has got extraordinary depths of great scientific expertise. Now, these sort of tensions obviously are a concern, and we do not want to have the U.S. leave. We know the world benefits enormously from the public health leadership and the role the U.S. has always played, and we hope that will continue.

MARTIN: I want to ask you about clinical trials for the drug hydroxychloroquine. This is a drug that President Trump has touted publicly. The WHO announced this week that it's temporarily stopping clinical trials of that drug. Why?

HARRIS: So there was a large observational study that was published in The Lancet last week where they looked at people who were taking a number of medications, and they found that there was an increased incidence in negative outcomes, including death but also heart arrhythmias. So it's - essentially, nobody will be randomized while that safety data is being reviewed.

MARTIN: President Trump says he's been taking hydroxychloroquine for some weeks as a preventative measure against COVID-19. Is the WHO advising physicians not to prescribe hydroxychloroquine, either preventively or to COVID-19 patients?

HARRIS: So we advise physicians to prescribe hydroxychloroquine for the things that it's used for normally in the normal population, such as autoimmune disorders. We are not looking at it as a preventive or prophylactic measure.

MARTIN: And finally, I mean, we saw New Zealand's prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, celebrate the fact that that country currently has no one in the hospital being treated for COVID-19. They have turned the corner on this. And then you look at the United States, which is perhaps going to suffer a second peak in the current outbreak. What is the state of affairs right now? When you take a broad look at the global impact of this pandemic, where are we now?

HARRIS: We're really seeing very, very large outbreaks in many parts of the world. So in fact, last week, every day we recorded the largest number of new cases that we had seen. So one of the issues is when people see their particular outbreak coming down, they think, oh, well, that's done, done and dusted. But that is not the case. Certainly, countries like New Zealand have shown what can be done with very clear communication, very clear structure, very clear decisions on what to do, when and how, and very, very strong commitment by everyone in the community.

MARTIN: Dr. Margaret Harris is a member of the WHO's coronavirus response team. Thank you for your time. We appreciate it.

HARRIS: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.