COVID-19: Is it time to relax social distancing in the United States?

Positive effects related to social distancing in the United States are starting to show up in the projections for the numbers of expected COVID-19 cases and deaths, according to data from the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME). As of March 31, NewsLanded reported that total deaths in the US were estimated to be 83,967 by the IHME. As of April 10, the IHME has revised projected deaths to be 61,545 in the US. That is a 36% decrease due to social distancing measures that have been taking place.

Screenshot of US data from the IHME website on April 10, 2020.

Social distancing measures are having a positive impact

Due to social distancing, it appears that less people are becoming infected with COVID-19. When the original projections were made by the IHME, only a few states had implemented state-wide directives to combat the spread. Some states were facing shortages of available hospital beds, ICU beds, and ventilators. Because the projected outcomes were so threatening to the healthcare systems, governors one-by-one implemented social distancing, safer-at-home, shelter-in-place, and lockdown measures to slow the spread of the virus. The latest projections have wiped out the potential shortages in many states, such as Tennessee, which at one point was facing a shortage estimate of over 17,000 beds.

Screenshot of Tennessee data from the IHME website on April 10, 2020.

Good news may cause undue relaxing of social distancing

Now that projections are lower, the fear is that people will relax their efforts of physical separation. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, infectious disease expert, this would be a mistake. This past week has been difficult due to the high number of deaths, especially in New York, and the good news is that new cases are slowing. The numbers of intubations, recovered patients, and hospitalizations have improved in New York, but the threat is not over yet. Going back to normal too soon could cause a resurgence of cases, potentially putting us in worse danger, much like the second and third waves of the Spanish flu in 1918.

New antibody tests to be used in the fight against COVID-19

Tests that determine if someone has been infected with COVID-19 and has recovered already are supposed to be available in the next “week or so”, according to Dr. Fauci. This strategy of testing for antibodies in the bloodstream could be effective in knowing who to release first back into the workforce. This could be especially important for first-line healthcare workers, as many have been sent home to quarantine after becoming infected with the virus. Those workers will be able to get back to the hospitals and clinics to care for patients.

President Trump considers reopening the economy by May 1

The data is being reviewed by the White House Coronavirus Task Force to help decide when to reopen the economy. The team led by Vice President, Mike Pence, consists of Dr. Deborah Birx, Dr. Fauci, representatives from FEMA, and others. According to Bloomberg News, “The effort would likely begin in smaller cities and towns in states that haven’t yet been heavily hit by the virus. Cities such as New York, Detroit, New Orleans and other places the president has described as “hot spots” would remain shuttered.” The timeline being touted is “within four to eight weeks,” according to Larry Kudlow, the National Economic Council Director.

By The White House from Washington, DC – White House Press Briefing, Public Domain.

What would Dr. Fauci do about Easter and Passover?

As Dr. Fauci has said before, “You don’t make the timeline, the virus makes the timeline.” He cautions that going back to normal gradually, not prematurely, is the safer bet. Seeing continued favorable results from the data is of utmost importance. The curves are flattening, and we want them to continue in that direction. As far as Easter Sunday and Passover are concerned, he believes that violating social distancing measures for the holidays would be a dire misjudgment. If anything, it’s time to double-down on the separation efforts and not be tempted to get together to celebrate.

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