‘Increase contacts, increase spread’: Reopening Mass. next week could lead to 2nd coronavirus outbreak, local experts warn

BOSTON (WHDH) - Non-essential businesses that have been closed for many weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic are hoping they are included in “Phase 1” of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan for Massachusetts, but starting the path to a “new normal” on May 18 could result in a devastating second wave of coronavirus infections, hospitalizations,  and deaths, local experts warned.

Since the start of the outbreak, Massachusetts has been among the five hardest-hit states with 79,332 positive coronavirus cases and 5,141 deaths, data shows. Moving to reopen the Commonwealth too soon without the ability to adequately test and trace could further harm the economy, put residents at risk, and add more stress to an already taxed healthcare system, multiple scientists told The Boston Globe.

“It still feels too early,” Erin Bromage, a biology professor at UMass Dartmouth who specializes in infectious diseases, told the newspaper.

As new positive cases continue to climb each day, even with a stay-at-home advisory in place, Bromage warned that there is still an alarming amount of community transmissions still happening. She believes that will likely get worse if Baker lifts the advisory and non-essential business closure order on Monday.

“The biology says you increase contacts, you increase spread, and you’re off again,” she told the newspaper.

Baker has stressed each day that the state needs to see a sustained two-week drop in new positive cases, new hospitalizations, and a decline in fatalities. He’s also spoken to the absolute need to increase testing capacity before a reopening plan can be executed in a safe fashion.

As of right now, the state is not testing enough people to detect or stop new possible outbreaks in the future, according to Dr. Ashish Jha, the Director of Harvard Global Health Institute.

“If you go too fast, you get more outbreaks, you get increases in cases, increases in deaths, and you set the economy back,” Jha told the newspaper.

Baker announced Tuesday that the state is “not yet out of the woods” with respect to fighting and overcoming the coronavirus pandemic, despite a recent gradual decline in new positive tests and new hospitalizations.

“While these recent numbers have been encouraging, hospitalizations, positive tests, and other measures, we are not yet out of the woods and we should all remember that,” Baker said.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert also issued a blunt warning Tuesday that cities and states could “turn back the clock” and see more COVID-19 deaths and economic damage alike if they lift coronavirus stay-at-home orders too fast.

“There is a real risk that you will trigger an outbreak that you may not be able to control,” Fauci told a Senate Committee.

On Monday, Baker unveiled a four-phase plan to reopening the economy. He noted that Phase 1 will include industries that are “naturally set up” and have “limited face-to-face interactions.”

It’s not yet clear which businesses and activities will be included in Phase 1 due to expected fluctuations in public health data.

Baker has said that industry-specific guidelines on what businesses can open in Phase 1 will not be issued until Monday, May 18, when the state’s Reopening Advisory Board is expected to present its full report to the governor.

The state’s non-essential business closure order and stay-at-home advisory are slated to expire on May 18; though, at this point, Baker has given no indication as to whether they will be lifted.

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