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Current U.S. COVID-19 cases are 'drop in the bucket': Epidemiologist

University of California Irvine Epidemiology Dr. Karen Edwards joins Yahoo Finance’s Seana Smith to discuss the developments surrounding the coronavirus, as the U.S. overtakes other countries for the most confirmed cases in the world.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Well, for more on this, I want to bring in Dr. Karen Edwards, department chair of epidemiology at University of California Irvine. And Dr. Edwards, let's first start-- take a step back and talk about social distancing and the mitigation efforts that have been going on in this country. As it stands right now, 22 states are ordering residents to stay home. From your perspective, do you think the US is doing enough so far?

KAREN EDWARDS (ON THE PHONE): Well, I think we all need to consider this as a national crisis. And everybody needs to be doing their part. It's heartening to see that we have 22 states with these regulations in place. But I think we really need to look at every state, and have everybody jumping on board, and encouraging social distancing, and putting regulations in place right now to stop the spread of this epidemic.

SEANA SMITH: What do you think we'll need to see in order for the federal government or state and local governments to relax our social distancing and Americans get back to work?

KAREN EDWARDS (ON THE PHONE): I think, at this point, it is hard to say when that is going to happen, given that we have not put the protections in place and encouraged everybody to do social distancing. I think this is going to drag this out, and it's going to take longer before we see the curve not just flatten, but we actually need to see it bend and go down before we even think about relaxing the social distancing recommendations.

SEANA SMITH: You know, Dr. Edwards, it was interesting-- I was reading Dr. Fauci saying that President Trump's desire to reopen the country by Easter is a, quote, "aspirational projection." It sounds like you might agree with him. Do you?

KAREN EDWARDS (ON THE PHONE): Yes. I do not think, at this point, that that is wise unless we really see the curves going down. And the problem is, if we open this prematurely and encourage people to go back to work, we're only going to lengthen this whole epidemic. And we really need to take this seriously and put these protections and recommendations into place right now across the country to stop the spread.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Edwards, what do you think the odds are that we could see the virus make a resurgence this fall? There's been a debate out there about whether or not that is likely, or how likely it is. How do you see that?

KAREN EDWARDS (ON THE PHONE): You know, at this point, it's difficult to tell. We don't have enough data to really know how this virus is going to act. I think there is a good chance that if we don't stem this epidemic right now, it will come back. And I think the more we can do now to stop this and get a handle on it, the less likely it will be that it comes back. But I think, according to most experts, it's likely that it will.

SEANA SMITH: And we've been talking about, obviously, the importance of testing the shortages for test kits that is happening really nationwide. A Surgeon General saying that the US has, quote, turned a corner when it comes to coronavirus testing. There's still, though, a massive shortage. Do you think enough is being done to address the shortage at this point?

KAREN EDWARDS (ON THE PHONE): No. And I think we need-- we need testing on a much larger scale. Despite how frightening the current numbers are, over 94,000 cases, honestly this is probably not even an accurate estimate of what-- what the true number of cases are in this country. And part of that is because we don't have adequate testing to know that.

So I think we need to get testing out. We need to do it in an appropriate way, starting with people on the front lines-- health care workers, first responders, individuals who are really directly involved in this fight, as well as people within the hospital. And then we need to deploy that testing more broadly so that we can understand what the impact of the infection is within our communities, and then make appropriate plans within our communities and across the nation.

DAN HOWLEY: Dr. Edwards, this is Dan Howley. I just have a question. Where we're seeing the US, you know, obviously have more cases-- reported cases than the likes of Italy and China, does that just mean that we're testing more people, and that we've confirmed more tests than those other countries, or do we have a bigger problem than them in general?

KAREN EDWARDS (ON THE PHONE): Well, it's based on the numbers. And we have not looked at, you know, for example, within Italy, and Singapore, and some of the other countries, they've tested a large proportion of their population. We have not even come close to testing you know a large proportion of the population. These are just based on sheer numbers. We have much larger populations, for example, than Italy and-- and Singapore. And so our numbers right now, this is just the number of cases. And as I said, we really-- this as a drop in the bucket in terms of the proportion of our population that has been tested.

SIBILE MARCELLUS: While we're seeing the number of cases continue to skyrocket in the US, do you think President Trump should do more to enforce social distancing? Is it just not working? People are just still going outside?

KAREN EDWARDS (ON THE PHONE): It-- I definitely think the president needs to do more. And we need to have consistent messages that this virus is not a hoax. This is a real emergency. People need to take the social distancing seriously. We have seen people-- for example, I'm in California-- out on the beaches, gathering in groups. That is something that we cannot have. This only continues the spread of this virus.

And our other challenge is that there's been a patchwork of states, in terms of some states enacting stay-at-home measures, and others have not. Again, this is only going to prolong this epidemic. All states need to do this, and they need to do it now to get a handle on this situation.

SEANA SMITH: Dr. Edwards, our health care workers short run average protective gear. We've been reading that everywhere, really, over the last couple of weeks, anything from masks to gowns, and then also of course the shortage when it comes to ventilators. We've seen public and private companies trying to do their part, jumping in to manufacture some of these products. What do you think is needed, or what do you think needs to be done to help or to better address the situation?

KAREN EDWARDS (ON THE PHONE): There needs to be, again, a national response from the federal government. The states individually are acting on their own to try and procure these-- these supplies. There is no way that our health care workers should be put in harm's way. They're on the front lines trying to take care of patients. And as we've seen the number of health care workers who are infected, those rates are increasing. This is going to put further strain on the health care system when we have these professionals not able to be in the hospital caring for patients. The federal government needs to step in, needs to assist the states in finding the supplies and distributing those supplies to the places where they're needed most.

This is especially true of the ventilators. There just is not enough around the country, or they're spread out around the country and not exactly where they're needed right now. And again, the federal government can step in and assist the states in dealing with this.

SEANA SMITH: All right, Dr. Edwards. Thanks so much for your time today.