Coronavirus (COVID-19) Press Conference with Marcia Castro, 06/29/20

You’re listening to a press conference from the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health with Marcia Castro, Andelot professor of demography and chair of the Department of Global Health and Population. This call was recorded at 11:30 a.m. Eastern time on Monday, June 29. 


MODERATOR: Dr. Castro, do you have any opening remarks?

MARCIA CASTRO: Thanks. I think we have only a handful of people, so we can just be more effective and take questions, if that’s fine.

MODERATOR: Sounds good to me. First question.

Q: Hi. Thank you so much for doing this. I was hoping you could talk about the role of allowing bars and indoor dining to be open in the increased cases we’re seeing in some states. Do you think those should be closed for the time being, or what considerations should be made by local leaders when they’re trying to make those decisions?

MARCIA CASTRO: So. Brazil is too big. That’s the first thing. So the pandemic spread in different ways and different timings as well. But a lot of cities now are having reopening plans there. I think there is a problem with most of the reopening plans first in the indicators that they’re monitoring for how long? Like cities, like Sao Paolo, they’re looking for periods of seven days and I think this should be about two weeks. There’s also not much that has been done in terms of surveillance and contact tracing. The problem with contact tracing at this point is that the numbers are so big that, you know, we wouldn’t have enough people to be able to trace. But again, if we can’t find cases as soon as we have symptoms, then it’s going to be really hard to try to mitigate the new infections. Now, the opening plans, for the most part, they have different phases in these some cities that I think they reopen stores and shopping centers too fast. There is a case in the south of Brazil that they basically decided to reopen a shopping mall and then they had to close and there was it was basically a cluster of cases that happen. Cities like Sao Paolo and Rio are moving towards opening stores. And in Rio, it was just over this past weekend that things are reopening. We’ll see what’s going to happen. The bars are not really opening yet. But I think Sao Paolo now is saying that they moved to the yellow phase, which means they’re going to start opening hair salons and other activities that again, I’m not quite sure if they’re ready for that. One thing that is important to keep in mind is a lot of people that work in those activities, they have to take public transportation. And in a lot of cities, what we saw is that the reopening took place, but the public transportation did not increase the number of busses that had been reduced before. So you basically have people crowding in the public transportation, which is not ideal. A lot of them were using masks, but that’s not going to be enough to  prevent. Masks are not necessarily mandatory, mandatory meaning you have to pay a fine in many cities and I think this should have been done already. So we are we are basically looking to see what’s going to happen in some of those cities as they reopen. But I don’t, I think we’re very far from having a very good, well thought and planned reopening plan for the vast majority of cities in Brazil.

MODERATOR: Next question.

Q: Hi Dr. Castro. Thanks for doing this. I wonder if you could put Brazil in the global landscape of COVID. Are they you know, we hear them compared to the US. But I wonder, you know, are they just earlier in the trajectory that we might see occurring in other countries, or are they, with the rise in cases, kind of unique in their own?

MARCIA CASTRO: Yeah. So Brazil is number two. And in fact, Brazil, U.S., India and Russia take about half of all the cases in the world. Brazil is unique because of the speed. So if you compare the country evenly, even the U.S., I think Brazil hit some numbers faster than than the U.S. did. And it’s still on, you know, kind of increasing trend. So we’re not anywhere close to start declining. And we we still have about a thousand deaths per day that hasn’t gone down. So it’s, I think it’s unique because of that, because of the speed of the transmission. And now it’s really going to the interior. We have a very small number of municipalities in Brazil that have not been hit. The vast majority with less than twenty five thousand people. But they’re most likely going to get it. So it is unique in that sense. It started in the major capitals, but now it’s going to the interior and it keeps increasing really fast compared to other countries.

Q: Do you see other countries around the world that may wind up following this trajectory?

MARCIA CASTRO: Well, we have to see what’s going to happen in India. So, you know, I was always surprised a little bit with the first numbers coming out of India and now they’re picking up. So I don’t know, depending on how some, particularly some states in India, manage or don’t manage to control the epidemic. I think that would be the one country that could follow the same path. But this is yet to be seen. Russia. I don’t know. I mean, my I. I don’t think I don’t know what to make of the numbers coming from Russia. I don’t know if those numbers are more underestimated than other countries or not. But I think that if any country will sort of follow the same path of Brazil, that would be India in terms of the magnitude, it would be India. But I don’t know. I hope they can control better than we did.

Q: Very good. Thank you. 

MODERATOR: All right. Well, it looks like that may be our last question for today.


MODERATOR: Thank you, Dr. Castro. Do you have any closing remarks that you’d like to make about Brazil and its importance?

MARCIA CASTRO: Well, yeah, for anyone following the news, the one thing I would say is pay attention to what’s going to happen in the Amazon. I mean, the fire season is probably going to start in about a month, a month and a half, and then we really could have a problem there. So if you’re really covering COVID and you’re covering Brazil, keep an eye on that, because if the fires are, you know, are big, as big as last year, this is gonna be a disaster. So keep an eye on that.

MODERATOR: And just to clarify, do you think it’s going to be a disaster because of the increased air pollution that will make?

MARCIA CASTRO: Well, that that’s one thing. So of the the pollution coming from the fires, they naturally increase the demand for hospitalization because of respiratory diseases. And usually we also see an increase in mortality of children under the age of 10. But because you can have those respiratory conditions worsening, then that can, you know, make people more susceptible to have a more severe COVID case. So you could have a scenario where the demand for hospitalizations will be because of COVID, because of the respiratory conditions. And on top of this, that’s going to be also sort of the season for malaria. And usually we have some hospitalizations as well. So we can have another scenario in the Amazon where there is a stress on the hospital system and another wave of deaths because of the combination of factors happening at the same time.

MODERATOR: So this the fire season usually starts in a couple of months, will be about the beginning of September, end of August?

MARCIA CASTRO: Yeah. It’s like they can start in August. It depends on how the patterns of the dry season will be. But they could start around August, September. That should be the peak. August, September, October. Depending on the year. Now we’re still in the dry season, and that’s when they’re cutting. And it’s usually that what happens, they cut the forest and then they burn it. And we have seen the record numbers of deforestation in the Amazon. So that makes us worry, because if they are cutting, they’re going to have to burn it.

This concludes the June 29th press conference. 

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