Burke says scarcity of coronavirus testing, lack of infection data will hamper efforts to reopen parts of the state


HARRISBURG PATRIOT-NEWS / PENN LIVE –  Pitt Public Health's Donald Burke said the lack of testing among low-risk groups means there’s very little data about what percentage of the public is infected but without symptoms. Burke, an epidemiologist, former dean, and holder of the Jonas Salk Chair in Population Health at the University of Pittsburgh’s Graduate School of Public Health, said Pennsylvania would need to increase its testing tenfold in order to answer key questions about the disease and its trajectory.

“We’re going to have to live with this epidemiological purgatory where we have some disease but not too much and where we have some social distancing but not too much,” Burke said. The fear is that those [asymptomatic] people could unknowingly infect many more, which is why Gov. Tom Wolf has shut down much of the state’s economy and ordered all but essential workers to stay home until the end of April.

Without reliable data on infections, Burke said it will be difficult to make informed decisions about when and how to scale back social distancing, and, later, when to ramp it up again for an anticipated second wave in the fall and winter.

Increased and better testing needs to be in place at least by the summer, he said.

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