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‘Not out of danger’: UW researcher shares phased approach to re-opening Washington

UW's Dr. Ali Mokdad on the updated COVID-19 projections and how the plan to relax social distancing is contingent on widely available testing and contact tracing.

SEATTLE — One of the researchers behind the University of Washington’s coronavirus projection model urged a phased-in approach to re-opening the state.

“We’ve been saying all along we can’t go back to normal immediately like flipping a switch. We have to do it in phases,” said Dr. Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) and chief strategy officer for population health at UW.

As of Friday, IHME projected Washington could begin relaxing social distancing restrictions after May 28, as long as the state has specific containment strategies in place.

RELATED: UW professor warns against reopening Washington state too soon amid coronavirus pandemic

That projection is based on Washington dropping below a containment threshold of one new case per 1 million people per day. Mokdad said in Washington that equates to about eight cases per day.

On Wednesday, Washington recorded 36 new cases of coronavirus, according to the Washington State Department of Health.

“We’re not out of danger right now,” Mokdad said.

Mokdad said removing restrictions should be based on whether public health officials can detect cases quickly, trace who they came in contact with and isolate them until officials are sure they aren’t infected.

Once the state begins allowing certain businesses to go back to work, Mokdad urged allowing them in phases. For example, Mokdad recommended phase one include the health care sector to give people access to screenings, vaccinations or prenatal care. The second phase could pertain to food security and businesses that ensure we don’t face a food shortage.

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However, a lot of those decisions may hinge on widespread testing and being able to test employees before they go back to the workplace. Washington, along with other states, faces a test kit shortage.

Mokdad also warned if we re-open too soon, there could be “devastating” impacts on the economy later on if we have to shut down again for another spike in cases.

“It will be more important for our economy to be delayed coming back online than to come back early and have a second wave,” Mokdad said.

Segment Producer Margaret Larson. Watch New Day Northwest 11 AM weekdays on KING 5 and streaming live on KING5.comContact New Day.