As more and more states start to ease up on coronavirus restrictions, President Donald Trump said his task force will shift its focus to reopening the U.S. economy. But the director of Harvard Medical School’s Program in Global Public Policy and Social Change warned states that reopen too quickly are putting themselves at “an immense risk.”

“I’m very worried about those states that are reopening prematurely that haven’t seen sustained declines in transmission and that don’t have plans, don’t have universal face mask policies. I think we’re about to see them get very, very, very hard hit,” Dr. Vanessa Kerry, also the founder of public health non-profit Seed Global, told Jim Braude on WGBH News’ Greater Boston Wednesday.

“In the case of Georgia, they hadn’t even started to see a sustained decline. They were still actually rising to, maybe best hopes, a plateau,” she said. “So, to think about reopening, we’re just gonna be right back at square one.”

Kerry — who is also a critical care physician in the intensive care unit at Mass General Hospital — said it’s painful to witness the effects of an illness that could be prevented.

“I am seeing patients, some of the sickest I’ve ever seen, but so many of them and all from the same thing,” she said. “When you walk out of the hospital, you don’t leave it behind because you’re walking down empty streets, everyone is in face masks and COVID is everywhere. And you see people protesting at the State House and I’m just holding my breath, waiting for the new surge now that’s going to come in three weeks.”

After nearly two months under a stay-at-home advisory in Massachusetts, Kerry said she understands the burden of strict mitigation measures.

“There’s a lot to mourn. We had a lot of freedom before in a way that we don’t. But this is the reality and the harder we fight it, the worse off we’re going to be,” she said.“COVID is going to be a part of our lives, meaningfully, for a while, if not potentially even always, depending on how the vaccine turns out. And we need to embrace that and think strategically about how we save lives, save the health systems and work within these new parameters.”

Kerry also addressed President Trump’s decision not to join or contribute to a United Nations vaccine coalition, stressing the importance of international cooperation.

“The reality is that sharing of information, sharing of genetic code is going to allow us to accelerate science faster. And we know from our testing debacle that developing our own tests may not always work out for us. … To this day, we do not have scaled testing,” Kerry explained. “We have to rely on international collaboration, information sharing, and we have to do this together.”

But the issue of diplomacy may be an even bigger problem for the U.S going forward, Kerry explained.

“I think the most concerning thing, though, frankly, was the signal it sent about our willingness to be a global citizen at a time of profound need and at a moment where we are globally at our most vulnerable than we’ve been,” she said. “The failure of U.S. leadership is just shocking in this moment. And I think that that’s gonna be a hard hole to climb out of for years to come, no matter who becomes the president in January 2021.”

Still, vaccine efforts have shown promise so far — leading top federal infectious disease expert Dr. Anthony Fauci to say one could possibly be ready for widespread use as soon as January.

“There is optimism for a vaccine. There’s a number of vaccines that have already gone to human trial that I think people are feeling really good about,” Kerry explained. “That said, we need to hold our breath until it’s said and done.”

“We should be doing everything in our power to shut down this epidemic, because we know it’s possible. We’ve seen it other countries,” she added.

Some countries have successfully begun to reopen after bringing down their rate of infection, including South Korea and New Zealand. But in countries across Africa — where Kerry’s non-profit Seed Global Health helps build and strengthen public health systems — coronavirus is still spreading rapidly.

“It’s a continent of 1.3 billion people and cases are on the rise. We should be very worried because there’s already crushing burdens of disease,” she said. “We’ve been partnering with governments there for years to help train doctors, nurses and midwives in order to ensure there’s that frontline to address COVID or every other disease that’s been going on. And our needs are only greater in this moment because there’s now this new layer of disease coming.”

Kerry said she’s hopeful that outbreaks across Africa can be brought under control, but there’s a lot of work to be done.

“There should be reason for hope but there also needs to be reason for action and mobilization. And we need to be doing that in this country. We are watching the inequity of COVID play out here,” she said, citing the outbreak in Chelsea, with one of the highest infection rates in the country.

“Our own back yard, Africa, we are in this as a global community. But we have to be engaged and we can’t settle for some people are going to die. We have to fight for every life we can because every life matters,” she said.