UF infectious disease expert: Survivors of COVID-19 could be immune for up to two years

 A UF infectious disease expert who answered questions during the weekly Gainesville Telephone Town Hall event on April 22nd  gave insight into recent discoveries about COVID-19.

“The more I study it, the more I have respect for this,” said Infectious Disease Specialist Dr. Glenn Morris, who has served as the director of the University of Florida Emerging Pathogens Institute (EPI) since 2007.

Dr. Morris’ studies range from “evolutionary genetics to the use of real-world data and bioinformatics to develop predictive mathematical models for disease transmission within populations,” according to his background information on UF’s EPI website.

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Dr. Glenn Morris

Dr. Morris is also a professor of infectious diseases in the UF College of Medicine and he has worked in public health and pathogen related fields for more than 30 years.

“We’ve been rather busy the last month or two,” Dr. Morris said about UF’s research projects involving COVID-19.

Dr. Morris said he is gaining an understanding of how COVID-19 is transmitted and studying ways it spreads.

“Mathematical models give us a feel for where things have been and where they could go,” he said.

“Gainesville has been very effective flattening the curve.” Now, Dr. Morris is planning on what to do next as his teams try to help the government as well as businesses maintain control over disease transmission and, at the same time, help society return to normal.

“Folks are doing a fantastic job here, but the reality is people still come out some,” he said and there are “points of time when you might be exposed.”

“It’s a tricky virus,” he said and described how COVID-19 is able to get into the air and drift for hours at a time.

“In a room with a large group, the virus can be present in the air,” he said reminding listeners that visiting crowded stores or using mass transit can still increase chances of exposure.

“As we begin to lift restrictions,” he said about easing up on the stay-at-home order,” I’m concerned that the low level transmission might go up.”

The next step in fighting the virus that claimed one life in Alachua County this week and has infected 28,576 Florida residents as of April 23, is to “Get some type of vaccine or develop a level of immunity to slow it down,” Dr. Morris said.

Alachua County had 226 cases as of April 23 with patients ranging in age from 2 to 94 years old.

Dr. Morris said the focus is now on testing in Alachua County as it is in the rest of the U.S.

“We’re also testing groups in Gainesville,” he said including the homeless and staff and staff and residents at nursing homes.

“We felt that the Alachua County Health Department has been doing enough testing,” Dr. Morris said about why UF teams have been focusing on the more vulnerable populations.

A caller asked whether a COVID-19 patient could test positive in the future after having the virus and then testing negative.

“Data to date suggests that if you had the infection you are immune for a year or two,” Dr. Morris answered. “You can continue to test positive for two or four weeks while asymptomatic,” he said.

Dr. Morris said he is concerned that COVID-19 isn’t going to be like the measles “where you get one shot and your immune for life.”

He added that he is, “Hopeful a vaccine will be available in the next year,” and added that there is a possibility that “you’ll have to take it every year.”

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