Coronavirus cell

SPRINGFIELD, MA (WGGB/WHSM) -- As Phase 2 businesses and organizations begin reopening Monday, many people may feel nervous venturing out in public again, fearing getting sick from COVID-19.

This is as new claims are coming out of Italy. Doctors there said they believe the virus is weakening and becoming less deadly.

Because the state has moved into Phase 2 of reopening, people may be concerned about seeing another spike in COVID-19, but doctors in Italy claim the cases they are seeing now appear to be less deadly.

Their comments sparked backlash from the World Health Organization.

Western Mass News spoke with a UMass microbiologist about whether this is the good news people have been waiting for or just wishful thinking.

Massachusetts is slowly coming out of a months-long stay-at-home order, and now people are able to visit their favorite stores again, albeit in a socially distant way.

“It’s definitely still out there,” Microbiologist Erika Hamilton said. “We’re still having new cases, we still have people who are dying from COVID.”

Two Italian doctors claim they are increasingly seeing weaker and less deadly cases of COVID-19 in the country.

Hamilton said it's not uncommon for a virus to become less pathogenic as time goes on.

“Over time they become less dangerous or less virulent because they just want to live in you and replicate in you,” she said.

Hamilton said viruses, in general, are trying to pass on their genetic material.

“ In some pathogens, it’s actually better if they don’t kill you because if you’re still alive, you’re more likely to spread them around,” she said.

This is why she said some of the most successful viruses raise the fewest red flags

“Things like head colds or warts,” she said.

She said the most deadly strain of COVID-19 has been successful in spreading so far because of its ability to live in aerosolized drops, and how long it takes to start showing symptoms.

“A lot of people spread it in large amounts, and they don’t realize they even have it,” she said.

The biggest criticism the Italians doctors’ claim has received from other health officials is that a potency-decreasing change in a virus tends to take much longer than a few months.

“We don’t know if it’s going to be five years or 500 years, but coronavirus will change to the point where it is not as dangerous to humans,” Hamilton said.

She said much of the success in driving down transmission has to do more with human behavior changes.

“We dropped our death rate, we dropped our catch rate, so all of those things that we’ve been doing since March have worked, which is awesome. That’s exactly what we wanted to have happen,” she said.

Hamilton said continuing to wear masks in public, disinfecting and remaining socially distant as we move into Phase 2 is the best way to fight the virus.

Copyright 2020 Western Mass News (Meredith Corporation).  All rights reserved.

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