Areas that don’t practice social distancing face up to 35 times more potential cases of COVID-19 per capita than those that do, according to a study published Thursday in the health care journal Health Affairs.
Researchers analyzed coronavirus cases in the U.S. from March 1 to April 27, saying their findings show “the potential danger of exponential spread in the absence of interventions.”
More than 90 percent of the country underwent some type of social distancing order since March, the study found, though not all policies were as effective, depending on how lax enforcement was and how long they lasted.
Social distancing policies that lasted 16 to 20 days reduced the infection rate by more than 9 percent, the study showed. Cases were reduced by 5.4 percent within the first five days of the policies, and that percentage grew the more days — up to three weeks — that they were in effect.
Places with no social distancing orders were at a much higher risk for infection.
“Holding the amount of voluntary social distancing constant, these results imply 10 times greater spread by April 27 without [shelter-in-place orders] ... and more than 35 times greater spread without any of the four measures,” the researchers wrote in the fast-tracked article.
The research comes as states begin a phased reopening starting this month and into the summer amid calls for caution from public health officials.
Stay-at-home orders have put local governments in a tough place as sales tax revenue plummets and unemployment has reached record highs, with tens of millions of people filing jobless claims since March.
On Thursday, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a set of minimal recommendations to help governments reopen public settings, such as restaurants and schools.
As different state and local governments approach reopening at different rates, those factors will have to be taken into account for future research.
“Further research is needed as gradual, untested steps toward reopening are taken across the country,” the researchers concluded.