Epidemiologist Julia Marcus, an assistant professor at Harvard Medical School, on Thursday warned of the pitfalls of “abstinence-only messaging” amid the coronavirus pandemic.

During CNN’s global town hall on the public health crisis, Marcus said a possible side-effect of attempting to totally eliminate the risk of spreading the virus (which she accepted is currently not possible) was people shaming others on social media “for what seems to be risky behavior,” driving those activities underground, possibly to an indoor dinner party, “which we know is going to be actually higher risk.”

“The last thing we want is for contact tracers to be trying to trace people who may have been exposed in an outbreak and people not being willing to disclose they attended an event,” she said.

Marcus instead advocated, going forward, for a harm-reduction approach where people are equipped with the knowledge and tools to differentiate between high and low-risk activities.

It was because, she acknowledged, people can’t stay inside forever or until a vaccine is developed, which could take several months or even years.

Marcus noted how “up until now we’ve had kind of an all-or-nothing approach where we’ve really been telling people to stay home, which is really what we needed to do for the first couple of months.”

A more sustainable approach for the long-term was now needed, she said.

To that end, Marcus said she was “very happy” to hear Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and member of the Trump White House’s coronavirus task force, encouraging people during the same town hall to “go out” over Memorial Day weekend (while still avoiding crowds, wearing masks and maintaining physical distance).

“I think that’s the approach we need moving forward, is to encourage people to be outdoors where we know the risk of transmission is much lower,” said Marcus.

Check out the interview here:

Epidemiologist Julia Marcus says “abstinence-only messaging” and trying to totally eliminate risk can backfire.
“If we start to see people gathering in a park… and call them out on social media, then what they might do is take that indoors and have a dinner party.”#CNNTownHall pic.twitter.com/NK4tSR5ITH

— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) May 22, 2020

And Fauci’s comments here:

Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House’s coronavirus task force, says Americans should “go out” for Memorial Day.

“Go out, wear a mask, stay 6 feet away from anyone so you have the physical distancing, and go out.” #CNNTownHall https://t.co/265ucspaQ5 pic.twitter.com/GS5NZXBeH5

— Anderson Cooper 360° (@AC360) May 22, 2020

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