Social distancing works, but resistance prompts worries of growing crisis
Social distancing efforts to slow the spread of the novel coronavirus are working, according to preliminary data, but there’s also a problem: There are still communities that aren’t doing enough, and some that started too late.
State and local governments around the country have closed businesses and mandated social distancing for weeks, which experts say is key to slowing the spread of the virus and preventing an influx of patients from overwhelming the health care system.
But the aggressiveness of those measures varies from state to state, and the impact of the coronavirus will be felt at different times in different places across the country.
Georges Benjamin, executive director of the American Public Health Association, said it is clear that social distancing measures are working, but he is concerned that the entire country is not following them.
“It worked in California, in Seattle, that’s great. … We are a very mobile country and there are still places where they are not doing physical distancing at all,” Benjamin said.
California and Washington were the first states to show evidence of community spread from the coronavirus, and were among the first states to issue stay-at-home orders for residents.
Experts and officials said the measures likely bought those areas time, and potentially spread out a surge in hospitalizations.
“Some people think social distancing working means no cases, and that isn’t true,” said Elaine Nsoesie, an assistant professor of global health at Boston University. The point “is to make the curve smaller over time so doctors and nurses can actually take care of patients.”
Leading experts believe all states should be issuing stay-at-home orders.
Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert and a member of the Trump administration’s coronavirus task force, recently questioned why some states have resisted.
“I don’t understand why that’s not happening,” Fauci told CNN on Thursday. “If you look at what’s going on in this country, I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that. We really should be.”
Yet governors in states such as Missouri and Iowa have refused to issue any kind of stay-at-home orders, remaining defiant that the COVID-19 nightmare facing New York and New Jersey will not affect them. Alabama just issued a stay-at-home order Friday.
Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds (R) on Friday criticized Fauci.
“Maybe he doesn’t have all the information. You can’t just look at a map and assume that no action has been taken,” Reynolds said.
She insisted the state is taking “significant steps” to mitigate the spread of the virus.
In Florida, Gov. Ron DeSantis (R) finally issued a stay-at-home order this week after facing intense pressure to do so. However, his order carved out exemptions for religious services, despite federal guidelines advising against gathering in groups of more than 10.
White House health officials have repeatedly stressed that all Americans need to follow social distancing guidelines for the U.S. to successfully fight the coronavirus.
“We’re only as strong as every community, every county, every state, every American following the guidelines to a T,” White House coronavirus task force coordinator Deborah Birx said Thursday. “And I can tell by the curve and as it is today that not every American is following it.”
Vice President Pence during Friday’s press conference complimented California and Washington on their social distancing, saying it was slowing the spread of the disease.
In the early adopter states of Washington and California, the number of hospitalizations and deaths are still climbing, but they have not seen the same spike like New York has.
As of Friday afternoon, California was reporting more than 10,700 confirmed cases with more than 200 deaths.
California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) in mid-March was the first governor to tell residents to stay home. In a recent press conference, Newsom said the state still had a long way to go before the worst was behind them.
“We’re in the middle of this, and I think it would be too easy for us to assert a belief at this moment about what has or has not worked, except to say this: We know what does work, and that’s physical distancing,” Newsom said March 30.
Boston University’s Nsoesie said even though a lack of testing limits the full picture, there’s enough evidence to show California’s hospitals are not seeing the same surge as New York’s.
“If people were getting sick, even if they’re not getting tested, you’d expect them to be showing up in hospitals,” Nsoesie said. But so far, she said, they are not.
Newsom credited his stay-at-home order with easing the stress on hospitals.
“We believe very strongly the stay-at-home order has helped advance our efforts in reducing the stress on the system that we believe would have already materialized in more acute ways had we not advanced those protocols when we did,” Newsom said.
In Washington, Gov. Jay Inslee (D) extended his stay-at-home order to May 4. He first announced it March 23.
A recent report showed that King County, which experienced the country’s first major outbreak in a nursing home, is making initial strides to slow the transmission of the virus.
“We are seeing a positive effect from the social distancing and other measures we’ve put in place, although significant numbers of cases and deaths continue to occur,” Seattle-King County Public Health Officer Jeff Duchin said in a statement.
Duchin said the threat of a rebound that could overwhelm the health system means that “no one should take these findings as an indication to relax our social distancing strategy.”
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