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Infectious diseases expert: 'We're in an unsure moment' on impact of protests, reopenings on coronavirus numbers

The director of the Center for Infectious Disease Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota said Sunday that while coronavirus cases are on the rise in some states, it remains unclear what effects the end of lockdowns and the large anti-police brutality protests have had.

“I think what we have here today is, we’re not sure what’s happening,” Michael Osterholm said on “Fox News Sunday.” “We have 22 states where we have cases increasing, eight where it’s level and 21 states where it’s decreasing. ... We have to be humble and say we’re in an unsure moment.”

Osterholm noted that in some states, such as Arizona, cases and positive test rates are increasing, suggesting the rise cannot be attributed only to more testing. He added that there have been influenza pandemics in the past in which cases would “suddenly literally disappear” after two or three months of increases, only for another wave to emerge later.

He also said that the U.S. is nearing the time when any spike in cases that resulted from the protests would begin appearing the data, but thus far, there has been little evidence of mass transmission outside of some National Guard troops deployed to Washington, D.C.

Osterholm noted that numerous conditions present during the protests in addition to the mass gatherings themselves were risk factors, including police firing chemical respiratory irritants such as pepper spray and tear gas at demonstrators, the potential spread of droplets through chants or shouts, and the detention of protesters in close quarters.

“These next weeks, the two weeks, are going to be the telling time. We just don’t know,” he added. “We’re not driving this tiger. We’re riding it.”

He added that a steep drop in cases could also be cause for concern.

“My biggest concern is if cases start to disappear across the country, suggesting we are in a trough” with a second wave forthcoming, Osterholm said.