Dr. Neale Chumbler Gives an Update on Confirmed Case Numbers, Vaccine Development, and More

By Jordan Miller

With over 1 million cases in the U.S. alone and 3 million confirmed cases worldwide, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to grow and spread across the globe. ntTV’s Jordan Miller sat down once more with Dr. Neale Chumbler, the Dean of UNT’s College of Health and Public Services, to follow up on the conversation they had on Wednesday, April 1st regarding the specifics of the coronavirus. When looking back on how the situation has evolved since the beginning of this month, Dr. Chumbler does not feel that there has been significant improvement. “It definitely hasn’t gotten better. This has been more of a challenging time because even though some of the case numbers have not necessarily ‘spiked’, there are still more cases emerging, and we still do not have enough test kits out.” Additionally, Dr. Chumbler discusses how the virus is spreading to new areas of the nation. “It’s still working its way throughout Texas and other parts of the country. At one time we thought it was just the urban areas but now it’s going to be moving into rural areas and smaller towns as well.” Many Americans are eager to see evidence that their efforts in social distancing and quarantining themselves have paid off, however, Dr. Chumbler explains that a lack of information is halting the creation of accurate models depicting the growth of the virus and restraining estimates as to when the number of cases will decrease. “We don’t have enough data. That’s been the most challenging aspect because there’s a lot of modeling out there but because we don’t have enough tests to confirm the number of cases the data is not as valuable or predictable as it could be . . . and that’s why you see the so called ‘peak’ times fluctuating.” However, despite this lack of concrete data, Dr. Chumbler is hopeful that the new “at-home” testing kit, authorized by the Food and Drug Administration on Tuesday, April 21st, will aid in accurately reporting the number of cases in the U.S. “That is actually a great outcome. Obviously, if someone has symptoms now the tendency is to go get assessed at your doctor’s office or the hospital, but that is problematic because you could spread the germs or pick up the germs there, so having it in the privacy of your own home is great. Also, in this case we will be able to get a more accurate number of confirmed cases.” Dr. Chumbler additionally gave an update as far as development of a vaccine and expected that, despite the years and years normal drugs and vaccines take to get approved for public use, under the current circumstances, the FDA would be willing to speed the process up. “[The vaccine] is still under development from my latest research. Right now, it’s very uncertain. The scientists keep saying that it’s going to be another year or so until the vaccine will be out. Think of all the different types of drugs that are available from blood pressure medication to diabetes drugs. Those take sometimes anywhere from three to four years to go from the beginning to the end. We will have to speed the process up in this case. . . and the extent to which we are able to test all the side effects will remain to be seen” With Stay-at-Home orders being enacted nationwide, some Americans are unhappy with the way the government has gone about combatting the spread of the virus. Protests have popped up in several states, one of the most notable being “Operation Gridlock”, a demonstration in Lansing, Michigan on Wednesday, April 15th that involved protestors blocking off roads, carrying signs, and largely ignoring social distancing protocols. Dr. Chumbler comments on the struggle between balancing the economic damage due to the virus and the threat to human life. “There’s a lot of businesses that are not allowed to open right now and the economy is suffering. That’s a challenge and dilemma. With that being said, there are lives at stake here. We do know that social distancing and not having large crowds . . . is the way to flatten the disease so to speak. I think that there’s pressures and challenges from both ends . . . but as a public health scholar my advocacy is to stay in place.” With Governor Abbot’s executive orders to reopen Texas with the new “retail-to-go” system, Chumbler reminds us on the essential ways we can protect ourselves and our communities against the virus. “When I go out in public I wear a mask. Gloves also help. Whatever you can do to limit breathing in the virus. You’re protecting your fellow neighbor and community member because you could potentially be spreading it.” The situation has changed significantly since the beginning of the month to now, and with May right around the corner, hopefully we will see significant developments in treating and preventing the virus. For more information on what you can do to help curb the spread of COVID-19, you can v