ABC Chief Medical Correspondent talks Phase 2 of state reopening, newly found inflammatory disease in children

ABC News' Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Jennifer Ashton spoke with ABC11 Thursday morning to discuss the state's planned reopening on Friday and North Carolina's first report of a rare inflammatory disease found in children.

A partial transcript follows. For the full interview, watch the interview in the media player above.


What is your takeaway as people get back to their day-to-day routines?

"I think it's important to do that for many reasons, but medically and scientifically, I think the message from infectious disease specialist, public health officials are crystal clear the virus has not disappeared. So, it's really incumbent upon us to learn how to live with it safely until there are better treatments, until there is some type of prevention in the form of a vaccine, hopefully, so that involves trying to go back to some of our daily activities but in a way that has some common-sense precautions in place to try and lower risk because obviously it is impossible to remove all risk."

North Carolina begins its next phase of reopening on Friday. In our state, restaurants, hair salons, barbershops are able to open at max capacity but bars, nightclubs and gyms have to stay closed. What do you think about that?

"Well, this is a difficult situation... First of all, from a medical standpoint we have to remember the two most important factors in the transmission of this virus, or other respiratory pathogens are: Times of exposure and distance or exposure apart.

So there are certain things you can't avoid doing and you want to minimize time and you want to maximize distance between people. And in some cases that will be possible, in other cases it won't. And if locally, regionally, we start to see cases go up then I think everyone has to be prepared to be able to take a few steps back because again, these are not just numbers or statistics or percentages, they represent numbers of lives."

North Carolina leaders are prepared to scaler back reopening if they feel that is necessary, so what are the signs they should look for?
"First of all, just what we call in terms of flu-like illness the same thing we see for influenza is something we call syndromic surveillance. So that's how many people in an area, a town, a city, a state are complaining of COVID-like symptoms.


Then, we look at testing, we look at percentage of those being tested that would return a positive result. And then epidemiologists and public health officials look for hospitalization rates and then what lags last are death rates. So, we need to remember that there is always a lag time between when someone becomes exposed, when someone becomes ill, develop symptoms, seeks medical attention, so there can be a significant lag time and that's why it's not just important to what is happening today, but looking two to four weeks down and also talking two to four weeks behind us to see how we got to where we are today.

After hearing word that a child experienced a mysterious inflammatory disease that may be related to COVID-19. How concerned should parents be about that in North Carolina in comparison to New York which has seen more cases?
As a doctor, it is always important to remember statistics, so right now this is rare. So an increased risk of a rare event in medicine is still a rare event.

But as a mother, there's no such thing as not worrying, we're created to do that as moms and dads. So that's normal.

I think it's just about increasing awareness when the CDC put out its urgent health alert at the end of last week, it did so to raise awareness so that pediatricians and health care providers are on the lookout for this. The care right now, if necessary, and if the patient has this hyper-inflammatory shot picture is just supportive. And the pediatric ICU care is luckily very, very good at that.

Again, so rare, but awareness is important as always."
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