NORFOLK, Va. - Don't lower your guard - that's the message from Dr. Edward Oldfield, an infectious disease specialist at Eastern Virginia Medical School. He is encouraging us not to become complacent as most of Virginia enters its first full week under relaxed COVID-19 restrictions.
Starting with the governor's decision to open up the beaches in Virginia Beach this weekend, Dr. Oldfield says we should be fine if we're alert.
"You are outside; the biggest risk is being inside in a confined space, so you wouldn't have that risk and as long as you truly continue social distancing. And ideally if you're within six feet of anybody, you should wear a mask," he says.
Yes, you heard right - if the beaches are that crowded, wear a mask on the beach.
"I would if I were on the beach. I mean, we shouldn't be on the beach if we're within six feet of each other."
Dr. Oldfield says mask wearing is extremely important now that we're in Phase One.
"It's absolutely more critical. The biggest mistake we can make is to open up and then decrease our social distancing and mask wearing. The problem with this virus is that up to 60% of transmission is from people who don't have any symptoms. You think, 'Oh, this person is not coughing; they look fine,' but you actually have these droplets come out with normal speech. It's very clear that you generate these droplets with simple speech. And in fact, what's going to happen for high-risk groups - people over the age of 60, people with diabetes, obesity - they need to be even more careful," Dr. Oldfield explains.
So, how long will it take before we get any data that Phase One has been successful?
"So, this is completely unchartered territory. The problem is, there's gonna be a three-week lag between reinfections if we don't wear masks and socially isolate and when we actually see the blip in cases. So, by the time we actually see the increase in cases, we're way down the road to having a resurgence that could overwhelm our hospitals again."
Dr. Oldfield believes Virginia was essentially ready to move into Phase One; he just wants us to be cautious.
"I'm OK with opening up businesses. We've clearly had a decrease of cases, in particular in Norfolk and the Southside. The cases were definitely coming down, but we must continue to do social distancing and wearing masks when we're in public around other people - that's a must," he says.
Dr. Oldfield says part of the problem is that there there has been mixed messaging on wearing masks, but he stresses they are critical in the fight against COVID-19.