Epidemiology is basically the study of incidence, distribution and control of diseases.
Dr. Lillian R. Peake, Virginia’s state epidemiologist, is at the forefront of efforts to fight the COVID-19 virus that as of March 27 has infected 604 people, killed 14 and forced the hospitalization of 83 in the state.
Peake has a master’s degree in public health from Johns Hopkins University and a medical degree from the University of Virginia. She also has been South Carolina’s director of public health. She gave a telephone interview to Style Weekly:
Here's a video of the phone interview provided by Firstline media:
Style Weekly: How bad do you think this is going to think this is going to get?
Lillian R. Peake: Right now we are tracking the virus. We started that in January when we first heard about it. We’ve followed what’s gone on in other countries and in other states. We’re looking at how to apply that knowledge here. We do expect the numbers to increase and we’re going to follow that until we have a sense of what’s going on.
There’s been a lot of talk in Virginia about the lack of personal protective equipment and other things such as ventilators. How serious are the shortages?
Virginia has set up what is called a unified command, which is a coordinated approach to bring all the different sectors together to respond to this health crisis. They have a health care coordination committee that is looking right now at what resources they have and they are actively looking at addressing those issues. They are the best group to really talk about the situation now in Virginia.
Do you know when it might peak?
We don’t have that information but we are following the numbers. We are looking at different models. But it depends on how much social distancing and how much we are able to keep people apart, so the virus spreads more slowly. So the more slowly it spreads, the less steep that curve will be of increasing cases. At some point it will level off and decrease. We are watching it every day and we are looking at what happened elsewhere and applying that and just taking it one day at a time.
One thing that’s come up in recent weeks, especially with Donald Trump’s talks, there seems to be a balance here between whether you want to support the economy or you want to work on the health side and contain the virus. What are your views?
We have to do both. It is a health crisis and we also have to look at the economic impacts of that no matter what policies are put into place. We are tracking the disease, we are looking at what’s going on, we are providing information to the public and to policy makers and we’ll continue to do that.
There’s news today that at a hospital in Boston, a lot of the health care workers there have gotten the disease – more than 100. Could that happen here in Virginia?
We are providing information to health care providers about infection control and this is something we are doing every day. There are many infectious diseases and health care systems can control these diseases. So they are using the resources and knowledge that they have. They are responding to the information. They are tracking the information. They are providing up-to-date information to health care providers.
Some people have suggested that with warmer weather that the spread of the disease might lessen somewhat. Is that true?
We don’t know that yet. There are studies that have been done but they are not conclusive. We hope they will be. But we don’t know that. We are watching that to see what happens.
If the disease ends, does it somehow mutate?
It depends on how easily it spreads from person to person. There aren't people in Virginia who have had this disease before, so right now it can spread through our population. It’s more when people have been exposed to it and they recover, then they're immune, it slows down the spread in the future.
You say they could be immune?
Yes. We are tracking this. You can go to our website, it’s vdh.virginia.gov. It has a lot of information about this. It is a great place to track this and get tips of how to protect yourself and your family.