LEXINGTON, Ky. — When it comes to summer plans, many of us have had to cancel vacations, graduations, weddings and other important events. As we look to reschedule or postpone life milestones, it can be hard to plan with so much uncertainty. Some have hinted that the United States may release travel restrictions as we approach the latter part of summer.
Craig Martin is an infectious disease specialist who is a professor and associate dean at the University of Kentucky College of Pharmacy. A native Kentuckian, Martin breaks down the specifics on what we should know for summer plans in the Commonwealth.
We recently read that those in the U.S. may be able to take summer vacations. What do you think?
Martin: I think it is important to consider Dr. Anthony Fauci’s entire statement before jumping to conclusions. While he said there’s a chance we’ll get to go to parks, baseball games, and vacations this summer, he cautioned that right now, it was only a possibility. It isn’t a certainty.
Wouldn’t taking a summer vacation, attending weddings, etc. be the opposite of preventing a resurgence?
Martin: We have to approach the summertime with caution. Unfortunately, planning events months ahead is risky. Kentucky’s Gov. Andy Beshear has given early thoughts on his criteria for opening the state back up, and other states will follow similar strategies. When restrictions are lifted, it won’t happen all at once. After our cases peak, a sustained decline will need to be observed. Only then will we slowly begin to return to our routines. There is a chance summertime reduces the spread of the virus, but we really don’t know for sure. If we go back to life as usual without vigilance, we risk a resurgence in either the summer or (more likely) the fall.
How might we gradually reopen the country so a resurgence doesn’t happen?
Martin: We cannot assume this battle will be over once we begin opening the country. Several countries with earlier outbreaks have experienced a resurgence of the virus even after initial successes. We must be prepared to open slowly, then reimplement specific measures if needed. This will take patience and determination. As Governor Beshear has noted, even St. Louis had a resurgence in 1919 after the 1918 influenza pandemic when they became impatient after initial successes.
As we gradually get back to our regular routines, what sort of vacation plans would help prevent a resurgence?
Martin: If you are considering a vacation, steer away from large crowds. Consider a hiking adventure at one of Kentucky’s parks. Take your kids fishing. Play golf. Even if destinations like amusement parks and resorts are open, we will not be out of the woods with this virus heading into fall. Want to reduce the risk as much as possible? Plan a staycation.
If the federal government opens up businesses, doesn’t that mean it’s safe?
Martin: The federal government will have to make complex decisions affecting the entire country. Areas with early surges may be safe to open back up earlier than areas here in Kentucky, where we have been successful in blunting the peak (or flattening the curve). This means we may be waiting longer. Our state leaders have the responsibility for the safety of Kentuckians, and they are the most appropriate authorities to make local decisions.
Will all people be tested for immunity to COVID-19 by this summer?
Martin: Whether we’re talking about being tested for the virus or tested for immunity to it, the answer is no. A large-scale testing initiative would take many months.
Will enough people have had COVID-19 by this summer to offer the U.S. herd immunity?
Martin: Herd immunity suggests enough of the population has become immune to an infectious agent—either through vaccination or previous infection—to limit the spread of that agent. Without some ongoing distancing measures, we will not have enough immunity to reach that threshold this year. For that to happen without a vaccine, we would need to have perhaps 150 million infections across the nation and nearly 2 million in Kentucky. Our best strategy is to limit the spread through social measures until a vaccine is ready.
Do we feel confident that schools will open in the fall as usual?
Martin: Just like vacations, we simply cannot make predictions that far into the future. I want to see our students in person, but only if it’s safe.
Will things be open by Memorial Day week? Will I be able to go to my community pool at all this summer?
Martin: I think planning a vacation out of state in May is too early, even if popular destination spots like Florida are open. We cannot predict the level of circulating infection in those areas at this point, and there is a chance you would have to self-quarantine when you return home. Kentucky’s executive order mandating quarantine for those entering the state is still in place. I really want to be able to take my children to our neighborhood pool and go to cookouts with my neighbors and friends this summer too, but we have to be patient. Let’s wait until we see a peak and a decline before we start making plans. Then let’s continue to look to our experts for guidance on those plans.
This interview was conducted by Kristie Colon of UK Now.