Story at a glance
- The White House began issuing social distancing guidelines on March 16.
- Epidemiologists argue if the guidance was issued on March 2, deaths could have been reduced by 90 percent.
- If issued a week earlier, deaths could have reduced by an estimated 60 percent.
The novel coronavirus has killed more than 31,000 people in the United States and top health officials project about 60,000 Americans will die from COVID-19 by August, but two experts say the majority of deaths may have been avoided if social distancing measures were implemented just two weeks earlier than they were.
Epidemiologists Britta L. Jewell and Nicholas P. Jewell Tuesday wrote in an op-ed in The New York Times that 90 percent of coronavirus deaths in the U.S. could have possibly been avoided if social distancing began March 2, when there were only 11 deaths recorded in the nation. If such policies would have been put in place one week earlier, on March 9, the epidemiologists say there could have been a 60 percent reduction in fatalities.
“Whatever the final death toll is in the United States, the cost of waiting will be enormous, a tragic consequence of the exponential spread of the virus early in the epidemic,” the experts wrote.
The Trump administration issued social distancing guidelines on March 16 urging Americans to avoid restaurants and bars, limit gatherings to 10 or fewer people and work and engage in schooling from home when possible. The move came more than two weeks after the first coronavirus death was confirmed in the U.S. The first death on American soil was recorded on Feb. 29.
In New York City, the site of the country’s largest outbreak, the experts noted fatalities could have been cut 50 to 80 percent if stay-at-home orders were put in place a week or two before March 22, when the orders took effect.
BREAKING NEWS ABOUT CORONAVIRUS IN THE US
“The point here is not to cast blame on mayors or governors for the timing of what were difficult decisions for both public health and the economy, but rather, to alert cities and states where full social distancing measures are not in place that hesitation can come at a very high cost,” the epidemiologists wrote.
The experts compare Kentucky and Tennessee in demonstrating how just a few days can make a difference. Kentucky’s social distancing measures were issued March 26, while Tennessee’s was issued March 31. As a result, Kentucky has recorded a significantly less number of cases.
But Britta and Nicholas Jewell note that lockdowns are not a solution to the virus, but are important in buying time to prepare for waves of infection and to develop vaccines and treatments.
The White House plans to release guidelines Thursday to inform states on how to relax coronavirus restrictions and reopen businesses. The decision on what individual states do, however, will fall to governors across the country.
Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Disease and a member of the White House coronavirus task force, said in an interview with the Associated Press (AP) on Tuesday that the U.S. doesn’t currently have the capabilities in place to begin reopening the economy and described a May 1 target date as “a bit overly optimistic” for many parts of the country.
WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW ABOUT CORONAVIRUS RIGHT NOW