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Stanford Health Expert Agrees Coronavirus Is Spreading Fast But Questions Governor's Projections

SAN FRANCISCO (KPIX) -- Gov. Gavin Newsom imposed a statewide shelter-in-place order to combat the spread of COVID-19 but one local health expert wondered how the governor came up with the numbers he quoted in his projections.

There may be a difference of opinion on some of the numbers Gov. Newsom has released but there's broad agreement on one thing: the novel coronavirus is spreading fast and Californians should prepare for the worst.

"It's time for all of us to recognize as individuals and as a community we need to do more to meet this moment," Gov. Newsom said Thursday evening in a video address from Sacramento. Newsom ordered Californians to stay at home beginning immediately and announced he had asked President Trump for federal resources to help treat those infected by COVID-19.

In a letter he sent to President Trump Thursday, Newsom said California's infection rates are doubling every four days in some areas and that 56 percent of the state's population could contract the virus in the next eight weeks, which would be more than 22 million people. He later said the "overwhelming majority won't have symptoms" but that up to 20,000 could be hospitalized.

Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, with Stanford Medicine, is trying to figure out where the governor got those numbers.

"That would be a worst-case scenario," Dr. Maldonado said. "And if I was governor, trying to plan out what I would need, I would want to think about what the worst-case scenario would be."

Dr. Maldonado said health experts are learning more about the virus daily. There are seven different kinds of coronavirus, four of them have been around a long time causing the common cold. All of them come from bats but virus behind COVID-19 has some unique characteristics. It lives mainly in the nose and throat and has a higher mortality rate.

Dr. Maldonado said, "You have a one-in-a-hundred chance of not surviving that infection. Now of course that risk is higher if you are in a high-risk group but do you really want to expose yourself to a one percent chance of dying from this virus?"

In contrast to other epidemics such as the SARS outbreak, which went away after a few months, the novel coronavirus may return within months. Maldonado hopes a vaccine will be out in about a year but, until then, the best weapon against the virus is isolation.

As the governor said Thursday night, "the point of the stay-at-home order is to make those numbers moot. To bend that curve. And, when we say bend the curve, that means the projection no longer becomes a reality because we changed our behavior."

Dr. Maldonado says many of those infected will not show symptoms. That makes it important for all to self-isolate so they don't unwittingly transmit the virus to others.

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