ROCHESTER, Minn. ̶ Dr. Pritish Tosh, an expert in emerging infections and preparedness with the Mayo Clinics, said Friday in a Zoom interview the nation is not going to be able to test its way out of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Tosh said that includes so-called “rapid tests” that some have suggested would be a game-changer.
“Those of us in health care really don’t see it that way,” Tosh said. “Testing is not going to be our way out of this.”
Herd immunity, which some have suggested would end the pandemic, also strikes Tosh as unlikely. He said reaching that state, when so many people have had the virus that it simply has few people left to infect, is “a complicated question.”
Among other things, it’s not clear how long immunity lasts after a person recovers from COVID-19. Immunity against other coronaviruses, including the flu and the common cold, fades over time. There is growing evidence that happens with the current pandemic as well, with Tosh noting some confirmed reinfections have been reported worldwide.
Tosh spoke hours after President Donald Trump announced he and his wife had tested positive for the virus. Wisconsin officials announced 2,745 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday, the third-highest number thus far.
The surge in cases that began in Wisconsin in September is leading to more hospitalizations, and officials have sounded warnings in recent days about hospital capacity. Tosh echoed some of those concerns Friday, saying facilities run by the Mayo Clinics are also seeing increasing numbers of hospitalized patients.
The Wisconsin Department of Public Health said Friday 82 percent of the state’s hospital beds are currently occupied. Of those, 669 have COVID patients and 208 of them are in intensive care across the state. Northwest Wisconsin is in better shape, with 29 patients hospitalized as of Friday. That was down from 38 patients one day earlier.
The overall picture of how the pandemic has progressed in Wisconsin and Minnesota is cloudy, Tosh said. There have not been the sorts of clear decreases followed by new surges that have traditionally marked separate waves of a pandemic.
“It’s hard to say if this is the second wave or continuation of the first wave,” Tosh said. “Possibly even a third wave.”
But the conclusion Tosh reached was clear. Waves of infections will continue until a vaccine is available and put into wide use.