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Q&A: When will life return to 'normal?' Other COVID-19 pandemic questions answered

George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of San Francisco, spoke to ABC10 about how vaccines could not end the pandemic.

SACRAMENTO, Calif — As the Greater Sacramento and the San Joaquin Valley regions have entered the state's new stay-at-home orders, a coronavirus vaccine has arrived in California. 

It has left some wondering where the country stands on the path to finally leave the pandemic behind once and for all.   

All retail and essential operations are closed in regions of California that fell below 15% ICU capacity. The order would last at least three weeks. 

George Rutherford, a professor of epidemiology at the University of San Francisco, spoke to ABC10 about when people should expect life to return to normal and how the vaccine could not end the country's coronavirus crisis.

The following interview between ABC10's Mike Duffy and Professor George Rutherford has been edited for clarity and brevity. 

ABC10: How much has changed since the start of the pandemic? 

Rutherford: A lot. A lot. I think we have a better understanding of viral dynamics. I think we have a lot better understanding of the natural history of the disease. I think we have a lot more sophisticated understanding of how to prevent transmission and then, of course, we have all the vaccines on top of everything.  

ABC10: Are vaccines the answer? 

Rutherford: To paraphrase the president elect’s new chief of staff, vaccines aren’t going to save a single life; vaccination will save lives. 

Having the vaccine doesn’t mean anything unless we can put it into people’s arms. That means creating the logistics and the system for administering the vaccine and getting people to want them and show up for them.  

ABC10: When will life return to “normal?

Rutherford: It depends on what proportion of people get vaccinated. If 40% of people get vaccinated, we’ll be wearing masks next year at this time. If we end up with 60 to 70% of people getting vaccinated, we may be free and clear by August.

ABC10: Why is mask wearing political? 

Rutherford: It shouldn’t be. I mean, this is about saving lives. We don’t make stopping at stop signs political. Right? This is just simply not the right cause to be taking up.

We’re trying to save lives. We’re trying to save the economy. We’re trying to do all those things at the same time and a thing as simple as wearing a mask and maintaining a little social distance, I don’t think it is too much to ask over the next couple of months until we have vaccine widely available.

ABC10: What grade would you give the US?

Rutherford: I think we’ve done the vaccine part right. That’s it.  To let the 50 states go their own way and not have a unified national policy or strategy, I think, is really problematic.

ABC10: What grade would you give California?

Rutherford: I give California about a B+, maybe an A-. We’ve done much better than other states, although right now, we’re in a horrible surge, especially in Southern California. The Valley’s not exempt from this. And we just have to do a better job.

It depends on what proportion of people get vaccinated. If 40% of people get vaccinated, we’ll be wearing masks next year at this time. If we end up with 60 to 70% of people getting vaccinated, we may be free and clear by August.

Continue the conversation with Mike on Facebook.

Read more from ABC10

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