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U.S. coronavirus cases leap past 250k

Suzanne Judd, Ph.D. and Epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health, joins Yahoo Finance’s Seana Smith to discuss curbing the coronavirus outbreak, as U.S. cases climb over 250,000.

Video Transcript

SEANA SMITH: Let's turn to the latest on the coronavirus. So the continues to spread. It keeps accelerating across the country nationwide. As it stands right now, the number of confirmed cases topping 258,000.

Worldwide, that number rising above a million. Joining us now for more on this, I want to bring in Suzanne Judd, epidemiologist at the University of Alabama at Birmingham School of Public Health. And Suzanne, thanks for taking the time this afternoon.

I want to start with the rapid spreading [AUDIO OUT] of this cases rise at a skyrocketing rate, not only across the US, but really across the world. Cases in New York alone topping 100,000. What do you think better needs to be done to-- or needs to be done better to slow the spread of the disease at this point?

SUZANNE JUDD: So we've taken the most important measure by giving social distancing. However, we haven't done anything related to quarantine of sick people. This is one of the steps that the US does not typically take unless we have a serious disease, like COVID-19, but if we're going to manage this into the future and meet the expectations that you were talking about with Michelle, we're going to have to do more than just socially distance. We have to make sure that we keep sick people away from well people.

SEANA SMITH: And what's the best way to do that? Because there's been talk about how here in the US and over in Europe they're looking into using phone data to track infected people, identify who those people had been in contact with. Do you think those types of efforts will help in this type of situation?

SUZANNE JUDD: Absolutely, those type of efforts, in addition to having what we call, contact tracing, where we actually identify people they came in contact with, and then follow those people and test those people to see if they become positive. It's a much more targeted way of identifying cases rather than just, do you have a symptom? Let's-- let's check and see if you're a case. You actually identify people that have come in contact with cases and follow them to see when they become sick, if they become sick.

SEANA SMITH: Suzanne, what about the nationwide shut down versus leaving it up to the states and local governments? Because there has been debate out there about whether or not the local governments have a better hand-- better handle on the situation in their area, and then there is obviously this large cry that needs to be done on a national scale. How do you think that this should be addressed?

SUZANNE JUDD: Epidemics are best managed at the local level. We really need local epidemiologists and local county, state officials managing their own outbreaks. The key to that, though, is that those states are managing their own local outbreak. This will-- this will be what will drive us forward into the future.

We may need a national shut down in the short term until we can get to the point where local governments are ready to-- to issue their own lockdowns. I'll give you the example of Alabama. Our state has not issued a lockdown but our county and city, the city of Birmingham has issued a stay at home. And it's because we have the most cases at the moment in the state.

SEANA SMITH: And Suzanne, would you expect cases to peak across the US? Because obviously, it is going to change. Or obviously, it varies depending upon the area and the location that you're looking at. But when we take a look at the US overall, how do you see that playing out?

SUZANNE JUDD: Overall, their models vary widely, and they really depend upon how much social distancing and whether or not we start getting some of the quarantine procedures up and running. Right now, it does look like nationally we'll peak somewhere around the end of April. The big thing most epidemiologists are scared of is the second peak. Should we ease social distancing and allow people to meet again, what happens if they-- that we get a second peak and another outbreak? That's the big question that we don't have an answer to yet because we just don't know how long it will take to identify cases in a much more efficient manner than what we're currently doing.

SEANA SMITH: Suzanne, I'm not sure if you're going to be able to comment on this, but the one thing that we have been tracking the White House planning to pay hospitals for coronavirus treatment for the uninsured. That's going to happen as long as patients aren't billed. It's expected to use a federal stimulus package. Do you have any thoughts on that, just in terms of how they could better help address the issue at this point?

SUZANNE JUDD: So that absolutely will help. I think that one of the big challenges we have right now is that people aren't sure where to go for testing and whether or not it will be covered. We have no idea because we have so many health disparities in our country, whether or not there are cases we're missing because people simply can't afford to be tested. So definitely, it will help us in terms of better understanding who is getting sick. But the question will-- the devil is always in the details, and it will depend on how it's rolled out.

SEANA SMITH: All right. Suzanne Judd, thanks so much for taking the time to join us this afternoon.

SUZANNE JUDD: Thank you.