PAHO says timing, local planning critical to relaxing COVID-19 restrictions

The Director of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Dr Carissa F Etienne, said countries planning to relax public health measures must take a phased approach based on local conditions and be prepared to impose preventive measures again if the epidemiological situation changes.

“The key is to think both nationally and locally and base decisions on the latest data. The more granular our understanding of where the virus strikes, the more targeted our response will be,” she told a media briefing today.

“As we are seeing, countries, states and cities that do not embrace preventive measures or relax restrictions too soon can be flooded with new cases,” Etienne said.

“Timing is critical. At national or at local level, we must open gradually, taking a phased approach that relies on robust surveillance, data, and expanded testing and contact tracing capacity,” she added. 

If the situation changes and infections rise, localities and countries must adjust course quickly, Etienne said.

Noting that 5.1 million cases and more than 247,000 deaths due to COVID-19 have been reported in the Americas through June 29, she said, “To truly understand the impact of the virus, and to plan more effectively for what comes next, it’s important to look beyond regional and national data and focus on the local level.”

“We often hear about the number of cases in large countries like Brazil, Mexico or the United States without the appreciation of their considerable societal and geographic diversity. In fact, multiple epidemiological curves coexist both within our region and within each country, and public health responses must be tailored to these specific situations,” Etienne said.

The PAHO director said reopening requires public health measures to track new cases and build sufficient capacity to detect and control new outbreaks.

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