PITTSBURGH (KDKA) – While the news nationally is grim, there’s some cause for optimism. A top researcher at UPMC says social distancing is working, although this is no time to loosen up.

“What we’re doing is working,” says UPMC Dr. John Williams.

Dr. Williams has been researching the local spread of the coronavirus and says social distancing is keeping our case numbers relatively low compared with hot spots like New York and New Orleans.

“The rate of new cases is not really going up,” he says. “The rate of new cases is remaining pretty steady.”

“This is really important because it means what we’re doing right now is working. This means that our leaders in the health department, the mayor, governor, everybody — the social distancing we’re doing, we started doing it in time, and it’s working.”

“Right now we’re not seeing an exponential increase which unfortunately so many citizens around our country are.”


Using a method called community-based surveillance, Dr. Williams says the virus is here, but the prevalence has been relatively low.

Less then 1 percent of people who have sought treatment at UPMC with acute respiratory problems have tested positive. And while the county health department’s daily cases count continues to rise, the increases have fallen percentage-wise over the past five days.

“It’s reassuring that right now we’re not seeing exponential growth, but that in no means suggests we’ve got this thing licked and can start loosening up,” he says.

Since the virus can spread in two week waves, he says it will be several weeks before we can determine whether the curve has finally flattened and the virus has peaked. Williams says it will surely surge anew if social restrictions are lifted.

“You know, when the Steelers are playing the Bengals in the divisional playoff and we have the Bengals down 21-7, that is not the time to let up. That is the time to keep blitzing every play. So, I think that’s where we are now. It’s just hard to know it will be time to start lessening restrictions.”

UPMC has been preparing for a surge in coronavirus cases, but is now hopeful that surge will not happen.

Right now, President Trump has recommended social distancing guidelines be in place until April 30. In Pennsylvania, some counties are under a stay-at-home order until the end of April, while non-life-sustaining businesses and schools are closed indefinitely.

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