Former CDC head: New York death toll might be 80 percent lower if social distancing was enacted 2 weeks earlier

Former CDC head: New York death toll might be 80 percent lower if social distancing was enacted 2 weeks earlier
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Former Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Tom Frieden said in a new interview that implementing social distancing measures two weeks earlier could have reduced New York’s coronavirus death toll up to 80 percent.

“Flu was coming down, and then you saw this new ominous spike. And it was COVID. And it was spreading widely in New York City before anyone knew it,” Frieden, who also served as commissioner of New York City’s Health Department, told The New York Times. “You have to move really fast. Hours and days. Not weeks. Once it gets a head of steam, there is no way to stop it.”

Taking steps such as closing schools, nonessential stores and restaurants could have reduced mortality between 50 and 80 percent, Frieden said.


Both the city and the state implemented such measures several weeks after orders in major cities in California and Washington state, two early epicenters of the virus in the U.S.

New York Mayor Bill de BlasioBill de BlasioNYC officials recommend masks indoors, but won't reimpose mandates Rep. Suozzi to run for New York governor Oversight panel eyes excessive bail, jail overcrowding in New York City MORE (D) continued to publicly encourage New Yorkers to go about their business as usual in early March and eventually ordered schools closed March 15 when the city had reached 329 cases, the Times noted, while San Francisco Mayor London Breed (D) closed schools three days earlier after the city had confirmed 18 cases.

At the state level, New York’s statewide stay-at-home order went into effect March 22, compared to California’s, which was ordered March 19.

“New York City as a whole was late in social measures,” Isaac B. Weisfuse, a former New York City deputy health commissioner, told the Times. “Any after-action review of the pandemic in New York City will focus on that issue. It has become the major issue in the transmission of the virus.”

Both de Blasio and Gov. Andrew CuomoAndrew CuomoDocuments show CNN's Cuomo asking top aide: 'Please let me help' defend brother Andrew Rep. Suozzi to run for New York governor Will media portrayals of Rittenhouse lead to another day in court? MORE (D), the latter of whom has become one of the national faces of the response to the virus in his daily press briefings, defended their responses.

“Every action I took was criticized at the time as premature,” Cuomo told the Times. “The facts have proven my decisions correct.”

“We’re dealing with a virus that’s only months old and science that changes by the day ... hindsight is a luxury none of us have in the heat of battle,” de Blasio told the newspaper.

As of Wednesday morning, New York has confirmed 5,489 coronavirus deaths statewide, with the 731 deaths on Tuesday marking the biggest single-day total thus far.