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"We're really at the beginning of this epidemic": Doctor worries about ending social distancing measures too soon

Health expert on coronavirus & social distancing
Johns Hopkins health security director on coronavirus in the U.S. and social distancing 02:24

President Trump said Tuesday that he wants America "back open by Easter," signaling impatience with the economic slowdown and stock market drops brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. His comments quickly sparked concern from lawmakers and health experts. 

In an interview with "CBS Evening News" anchor Norah O'Donnell, Dr. Tom Inglesby, the director of Johns Hopkins' Center for Health Security, weighed in on the president's proposed timeline.

Read O'Donnell's interview with Dr. Inglesby below.

Norah O'Donnell: The president said today he wants the country opened by Easter. That's 19 days from now. Is that a realistic goal?

Dr. Tom Inglesby: So I think it's too soon to say where we will be by Easter. But I think it's going to take at least until Easter to even begin to see the impact of the social distancing measures that have been put in place in the last week.

And we've heard the governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, say that New York is going to reach its peak in two or three weeks. So this is far from over.

Yeah, I do think we're really at the beginning of this epidemic. In Italy, not very long ago, there seemed to be quite a calm, and no evidence of cases — and now, there are extraordinary numbers of sick people and dying people around the country of Italy. And we can see Washington State and New York are the beginning of what could happen in this country, around the country.

I'm quite worried that if we release social distancing measures soon, we're going to have a rapid rise in cases.

And, you know, we're not even two weeks into this in terms of the social distancing, and already the discussion has become, "Well, when can we end it?" Is that the right way to look at this crisis?
Well, I do understand that even with a week of these measures, there has been incredible economic hardship around the country. I think it's too soon to say which measures we could let off when. 

What do you make of the argument that another Great Depression could in itself be a public health crisis?

I completely agree with that. I think it's really important to think through all of the economic consequences. But at the same time, we have to do the same for what will happen in the absence of any attempt to slow this virus down.  

We heard the President say that we've never closed down the country like this for the flu, and the flu kills tens of thousands a year. Why is this different?

In a normal flu season, we don't have people overflowing into hospitals, we don't have so many people that we don't have enough ventilators for them. And so I think we need to make sure that everyone understands that this is a very unusual event. This does not look like seasonal flu. 

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