WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — As businesses continue to reopen and life gets back to a somewhat normal state, a West Palm Beach infectious disease specialist says he doesn't expect the rate of new coronavirus cases to slow anytime soon.
"We're under increased economic pressure to open things up," Dr. David Dodson said. "Whenever you open things up and you have people interacting with people, the number of cases is gonna go up."
Dodson answered questions live on WPTV's Facebook page on Tuesday, and said he believes COVID-19 will continue infecting people for another year or two.
"Whenever human beings are together, that's an opportunity for the virus to spread," Dr. Dodson said. "The more we get in crowds, the more with interact with other human beings, the more opportunities there are to spread."
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Dodson said the number of COVID-19 cases is increasing, in particular, in Palm Beach County.
That statement was echoed at a news conference on June 5, when county officials acknowledged there's been a spike in coronavirus infections among Palm Beach County residents between the ages of 35 and 45.
Officials attributed that increase to the fact that more businesses are reopening.
"Some of this is anticipated," Mayor Dave Kerner said. "When we open up the economy, there will be that younger generation going out into the economy and spending money and trying to revert back to a somewhat normal way of life."
Dodson, who believes it's too early to reopen beaches and theme parks, said the key to stopping the COVID-19 pandemic is developing a vaccine, which he said could be up to a year and a half away.
"This pandemic ends when either there is herd immunity. That is, most people have been infected and therefore, the transmission is less, or there's a vaccine. That's the only way this ends," Dodson said. "Until we have a better treatment or a vaccine, our behavior is the only defense that we have."
That behavior includes wearing face coverings in public and practicing social distancing, something Dodson said he's not seeing at the ongoing "Black Lives Matter" rallies across South Florida in the wake of the police-involved death of George Floyd in Minnesota.
"When I watch the protests on TV, I understand why they're protesting, but I also cringe because a lot of the people are in close proximity, some of them are not wearing masks, and that is just, like, a Petri dish for the virus to spread," Dodson said.
Because of the protests, Dodson expects the number of COVID-19 cases to spike locally over the next couple weeks.
"When people get together, there's gonna be increased cases," said Dr. Dodson.
With school letting out, the doctor also advised people to avoid taking Summer vacations for now.
"Any time you venture out, particularly if you go on an airline flight or something, you're exposing yourself to other people potentially who have the virus," Dodson said. "I think the wisest thing to do is to just stay back."
Dr. Alina Alonso, the health director for Palm Beach County, said last week that it's more important than ever to practice social distancing, wear face coverings in public, wash your hands frequently, and keep your hands away from your face.
"Everybody that's listening needs to continue the stronger, even stronger now because we have the openings," Dr. Alonso said on June 5.
Alonso added that she expects to see another surge in COVID-19 cases in South Florida in October and November.
"It will be back with flu season," said Dr. Alonso. "So at that time we're gonna have to do another really strong effort to get people to adhere and be careful again."
According to the latest numbers from the Florida Department of Health, there are 7,518 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Palm Beach County, including 388 deaths.