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As Coronavirus Cases Soar In South, New England Prepares For Second Wave

BOSTON (CBS) - Developments with the coronavirus move fast. Five months ago, we were living our normal lives. Four months ago, Massachusetts reported its first COVID-19 death. Two months ago, things started to re-open. So what can we expect to happen in the fall?

"As a country we're still going up, we're still in the first wave," said Tufts Medical Center Epidemiologist Dr. Shira Doron. "As a state, as a region, we had a peak. We came way down and so we are on the other end of a first wave."

Dr. Doron says public health experts are preparing for a second wave and a possible second surge of hospitalizations. She says the severity of the outbreak will largely be determined by people's habits.

"It's really going to be so dependent on human behavior, which is so unpredictable. It's going to be dependent on travel patterns, people continuing to adhere to the distancing, and the masking," Dr. Doron said.

Key metrics in Massachusetts continue on a downward trend. The positive test rate has remained at or below 2 percent since June 18th. And on Monday, the state reported 174 new cases and one death.

"We were able to get control over that spread with a very aggressive stay-at-home order and a very aggressive shutdown. With re-opening, we have managed to keep those numbers down," said Dr. Doron. "Part of that was our governor's reliance on experts and science to determine the appropriate and safe thresholds for that re-opening."

Experts do warn of a rise in infections as restrictions on travel loosen and businesses re-open. At a sleepy Logan Airport Monday, some flyers were heading back to hot spots like Georgia and Texas. Signs encouraged Massachusetts visitors to self-quarantine for 14 days. COVID-19 cases in 18 southern states continue to rise, a spokesman for Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker says travel advisories are subject to change.

"The Administration has issued a travel advisory instructing all travelers to Massachusetts to self-quarantine for 14 days, except from New England, New York and New Jersey, and instructing people who display COVID-19 symptoms to not travel to Massachusetts. The Administration will continue to evaluate travel guidance for out of state visitors."

In Georgia, health officials report positive case numbers have surpassed 130,000 and the infection rate is currently at 10 percent. More than a dozen cities have enacted mask mandates, including Atlanta. Governor Brian Kemp is challenging the ordinance and is suing Atlanta's mayor.

"While we all agree that wearing a mask is effective, I am confident that Georgians don't need a mandate to do the right thing," Kemp said.

Meanwhile, President Trump continues to emphasize the country's mortality rate. And stress that the surge in cases is because of increased testing.

"Not all of those people who are positive are going to go on get hospitalized or to die but they are going to contribute to transmission. So, they are important," said Dr. Doron. "Hospitalizations and deaths are critical to understanding the impact of those new cases and the potential to overwhelm the health care system."

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