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Task Force prepares for GPICA presentation

By PAULETTE LeBLANC - | Sep 9, 2020

pleblanc@breezenewspapers.com

The Pine Island Covid-19 Task Force opened its weekly meeting Monday, Aug. 31, with a discussion on presentation preparations for the Greater Pine Island Civic Association Zoom meeting, scheduled Tuesday, Sept. 2.

Professor of Epidemiology Dr. Jim Koopman, who was scheduled give a part of the Task Force presentation at the meeting, said he didn’t want to dwell on failures regarding COVID-19, but rather on what can be done about the current situation and how that is likely to change the future outcome of the pandemic.

“We have a lot of failures in the past and in the present,” said Koopman, “and I don’t think we gain a lot by dwelling on it.”

Koopman said we are a long way from herd immunity, which could affect much of the population at the present rate of reopening. He also said testing is improving from where it began only months ago.

“To me it’s very clear that these will do much more to stop transmission than the ones we’re doing now,” said Koopman of the new tests becoming available. “They are not as sensitive. They are just as specific — in other words, they have some false negatives, but they have fewer false positives and when you look at the patterns of peoples’ infections sequentially with traditional tests there are a lot of times where people are negative in between being positive. But these new tests don’t behave that way so that’s an advantage.”

The turn-around time, he said, is the biggest determining factor in transmission prevention. Although these tests are not as sensitive, they are sensitive enough to determine someone who is highly infectious. In his presentation to the GPICA, he said he planned to cover the seasonality of endemic corona viruses, which is coming soon.

“There are no viruses that are more seasonal than endemic coronaviruses and there’s no reason to believe that this coronavirus is not going to be just as seasonal as they are,” Koopman said.

Easy testing and organized surveillance are things Koopman said will be needed in the future, adding that he’d like to see the island become more organized toward obtaining these things. Although he said he was initially skeptical regarding a messenger RNA vaccine, which performs by the body’s ability to turn it into an antigen, this is the vaccine Koopman says is most likely to be the first approved for COVID-19.

“Even though the vaccine makes you sick,” said Koopman, “it does a good job in inducing immunity — it doesn’t make you very sick. I think some of these vaccines will work but corona viruses affect everybody at every age. There’s no reason to think this will be different. The reason they affect everyone at every age is probably because they’re drifting so much … there’s waning and drifting. That’s the work that I’m doing. I think there’s hope in terms of a vaccine, but there are going to be problems and it’s not going to come immediately.”

Koopman emphasized keeping down the reproduction number to avoid more deaths, by following CDC guidelines and taking whatever measures necessary to contain the virus. He reminded everyone that measures taken are not the only factor, however, but the coming seasons in which endemic coronaviruses thrive. While the Task Force on the whole is concerned that people are at risk, Koopman explained the difference between individual and population risk.

“If we calculate our individual risk and say I only have a 1 percent chance of getting infected if I do this series of things, that’s under the current conditions, but if I do those things and if other people do those things, they change the transmission dynamics so it’s now no longer a 1 percent, it’s a 10 percent,” Koopman said.

“And it increases in an exponential way, not just in addition,” said Task Force leader Eric McCrea.

“And it’s more than exponential,” said Koopman, “because there’s a process of growth that it’s going through.”

According to Koopman, people seem to be more concerned with complications arising from a vaccination than they are with becoming infected. Although he admits this may be true in some cases, he reminded the group that if just 10 percent of the people act on this, the virus increases greatly.