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U of U health expert looks ahead to the new normal

Posted at 9:32 PM, Apr 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-19 23:32:55-04

SALT LAKE CITY – An expert of infectious diseases is offering insight into what re-opening the Utah economy will look like amid the COVID-19 fight.

Dr. Jay Jacobson is an emeritus professor of internal medicine within the division of infectious disease and medical ethics at the University of Utah.

He believes state leaders face a serious challenge in weighing the economic benefits of loosening restrictions with the possible medical issues that may arise.

“Responding to this epidemic had incredibly severe economic consequences,” Jacobson said. “There is a huge responsibility on any state that wants to be the first.”

As of Sunday, Utah reported more than 3,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19, with an increase of more than 100 cases each of the last five days.

“Until there is a sustained decrease in cases and as the report requires, hospitalizations, it would be premature to think about opening,” Jacobson said.

Currently, state leaders are looking at an early May date to gradually start allowing businesses to reopen. Aside from a decrease in confirmed cases, Jacobson says testing must be readily available.

“It sounds like from my initial reading, a random testing program of almost 13,000 people in 25 places, perhaps all of the counties in Utah. That’s a wonderful thing,” Jacobson said.

He is referring to a document titled “Utah Leads Together,” authored by the state’s Economic Response Task Force.

It outlines the state’s plan for returning life to some sense of normalcy, with caution.

“Measures like personal hygiene and social distancing and wearing masks, all of those reduce transmission. If they were all practiced equally well by everyone, some degree of gathering would be relatively safe,” Jacobson said.

But he added, not everyone will be able to safely go out in public, yet.

“People that are highly vulnerable to this disease, I think will be very slow to engage in activities that put themselves at risk,” Jacobson said.

With the early May target date just days away, a whole new set of challenges await Utah’s elected leaders, medical professionals and citizens.

“Re-opening is consistent with the idea that you would accept transmission of infection and disease, but at a lower rate,” Jacobson said. “The challenge would be, if that were to happen and we were unprepared to deal with it, we would see more deaths.”