Infectious Disease Expert: Better National Leadership Needed to Fight COVID-19

Face masks play a crucial role in stopping the spread of the coronavirus, but not everyone is wearing them.

They should be, says Dr. Emily Landon, associate professor of medicine and the executive medical director for infection prevention and control at UChicago Medicine.

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“It’s not a hoax. It’s not just the flu. It’s a real serious issue,” Landon told “Chicago Tonight” on Monday. “It’s really important to remember a mask is just another piece of clothing,” she said, like wearing gloves in the winter.

Despite a requirement in Illinois that people wear masks in public places, many are going without them, including at bars that have been cited by Chicago officials for violating rules to slow the spread of COVID-19.

To get everyone to mask up, Landon says better national leadership is needed. President Donald Trump was spotted wearing a face mask in public for the first time this past weekend.

Last week, Gov. J.B. Pritzker called for a federal mask mandate and for the federal government to ensure free COVID-19 tests for anyone who needs them. 

Landon agrees with the need for free testing and says that while “Chicago is doing better than many parts of the world, that doesn’t mean people have access whenever they want a test.”

Since the pandemic began, Illinois has conducted more than 2 million tests, with more than 30,000 conducted in the 24 hours between Sunday and Monday, according to state health officials.

Landon says that while the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention made some “missteps” early on, she trusts the agency’s longtime scientists and public health professionals. “I trust the science that comes out of the CDC and I hope it’s not tainted by political persuasions,” she said. “Dr. Anthony Fauci is a great advocate for doing the best thing. I’d like to hear more of his voice.”

With the school year quickly approaching, parents are wondering if they’ll be able to send their children back to the classroom in the fall — or if they should. 

Landon says it’s too early to make that call. “That decision needs to be made (based on) the local epidemiology near the time of school (opening),” she said. “Right now, it’s probably OK for younger kids to be back at school. Depending how things go in Illinois, that may be a very different (situation) come September.”

On Monday, the Illinois Department of Public Health reported 883 new cases of the coronavirus and six deaths related to the disease. The state has been seeing a rise in cases over the past several days after a steady drop earlier this month. Despite the uptick, the statewide positivity rate remains relatively stable at 3%, according to the IDPH. Statewide, 154,799 people have been infected with the virus and 7,193 deaths linked to the virus have been reported.

The city and state have been in phase four of reopening the economy for more than two weeks, but Landon says she has yet to dine out at a restaurant — either indoors or outside.

“I’m not ready to be eating inside,” Landon said, adding she has an immunocompromising condition that puts her at higher risk of contracting the virus. “But I’ve been outside a lot (and) been to a lot of stores, and seen friends and added people to my quarantine family, or people I’m willing to be up close and unmask with.”

Landon says she plans to visit her 75-year-old mother, who recently returned from Florida. “She quarantined for two weeks. She did great and is feeling fine and is being careful about her contacts, which is why I’m careful about mine,” Landon said.

Contact Kristen Thometz: @kristenthometz (773) 509-5452  [email protected]

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