With coronavirus spikes surging across the nation and in the DMV, Dr. Sunil Budhrani talks about why this is happening and what we can do to stay safe.

Budhrani is a Clinical Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine at The George Washington University and CEO and Chief Medical Officer of Innovation Health, the joint venture between CVS Health/Aetna and Inova Health System.

He first mentions the current numbers:

In Washington, D.C., there have been a total of nearly 12,000 coronavirus cases, 581 deaths, and 106 hospitalizations. In Maryland, there have been a total of about 85,000 cases, 3,300 deaths, and 544 hospitalizations. And, in Virginia, there have been a total of approximately 86,000 cases, 2,000 deaths, and 1,294 hospitalizations since the beginning of the outbreak.

“Virginia, in many ways, has caught up and has grown at probably the greatest rate,” says Budhrani. 

He explains that it’s going to be critical to be disciplined when it comes to wearing a mask, making sure we’re washing our hands for 20 seconds, and that we’re physically distancing (Budhrani is not a fan of the phrase ‘social distancing’).

“In our region, most of the hospitals have the capacity, should there be a recent surge,” he says. But that can change very rapidly if we’re undisciplined in maintaining safety measures.

One of the key factors as to why coronavirus spikes are continuing across the nation, and in the DMV, explains Budhrani, has to do with younger Americans.

“You have a younger population that’s not really following physical distancing, not wearing the mask, and engaging in some risky behaviors such as congregating in parks and around lakes,” he says. “That’s translating to a younger cohort of patients that are showing up at the hospital and getting symptoms.”

Other factors attributed to the spike include the high summer temperatures. With several months of remote work and staying at home, people are now eager to leave their houses, but they’re congregating in big groups. Going outside is okay, according to Budhrani and many other health officials, but it’s another thing when individuals decide to gather in large groups without any facial protection.

“It doesn’t take a lot to realize what’s going on in Florida. Their cases have gone up dramatically – some ICUs are almost at full capacity – and we can certainly get there if we don’t follow some of the things I mentioned,” says Budhrani.

He emphasizes the importance of learning from other states.

Recently, Washington, D.C. put in place two new mandates to help curb the spread of the virus. The first one is a quarantine order for travelers coming in from ‘hot spots.’ “D.C. requires individuals that are coming from 27 states, that are traveling for non-essential travel, to quarantine for 14 days if they come into the District of Columbia,” says Budhrani.

A hot spot has been defined as a place in which, in a seven-day moving average of cases, there have been 10 or more positive cases out of 100,000. 

Excluded from the 27 states are Maryland and Virginia, for the fact that they make up an interstate commerce region along with D.C. “People work in Maryland, they live in Virginia, and they dine in D.C.,” explains Budhrani, which makes it more challenging to control.

The second mandate in the District is a mask-wearing one. Essentially, it requires individuals to wear masks in indoor spaces, businesses, and in outdoor settings where there’s potential for large groups. “We have seen an increased number of hospitalizations, so we want to get ahead of it in this region,” says Budhrani.

As to precautions that Washingtonians and Northern Virginians should be taking to avoid the coronavirus, Budhrani says to be very cautious about traveling out of the state if you don’t have to, especially in the hotspot areas.

Although he says that in the DMV people have been cognizant about the importance of the measures that we have to be disciplined with, he sheds light on a new struggle coming up in the fall: having to coexist with both the flu virus and the coronavirus.

“It’s going to be very critical that we think about getting the flu vaccine this year in a way that we haven’t before,” he says. “Because people like me, in the ER, are really going to be challenged by having two very contagious viruses out there while we try to address it.” 

As to whether or not to open up schools and universities this fall, Budhrani says it’s an incredibly complicated issue that really depends on the location of the school. “There is no perfect solution, but paramount is the safety of the teachers and students while considering what is the best way to educate people in this unprecedented time.”

Finally, he mentions that, in a time like this, we are all links in a chain. “If one individual doesn’t do their part, then the remaining links fall apart and we all will subject ourselves to the complications,” he says.

“This is a marathon, not a sprint.”

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