Experts explain why social distancing is crucial for curbing coronavirus spread
Dr. Jeff Duchin, Health Officer for Public Health – Seattle & King County, explained that the social distancing and interaction restrictions announced Wednesday for King, Snohomish, and Pierce Counties are essential to help slow the spread of coronavirus.
Duchin cited research from local researcher Trevor Bedford at Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center, as seen in the graph included below.
On today’s date, the research presented shows there could be up to 1,000 cases of coronavirus in the community. The blue line indicates what could happen if we do implement social distancing or other community mitigation measures to “flatten that curve.”
“The various other lines show that with social distancing and community mitigation measures that would reduce social interactions by 25 percent or more, we can see meaningful reductions in both the rate at which people become ill and the total number of people that become ill in a given time frame,” Duchin explained.
The measures implemented in Washington state will be implemented over a long time, Duchin said, and people need to understand how to cope with restricted activities and a change in their normal schedule for weeks to come, possibly months. Restricting social activities allows for a decreased risk of getting ill or spreading it to others.
“It’s really critical for people to understand this is a very serious disease,” Duchin said. “Killing ten times as many people as an annual influenza outbreak is a very significant impact on our health care system and our community.”
As people become ill, social distancing measures will help to lengthen the time frame of illness, putting less stress on the system.
A recently released paper from local researchers emphasized that need, estimating that without social distancing measures, Washington state could see upwards of 25,000 coronavirus infections by April 7, eventually killing 400 people.
With a 75% increase in social distancing intervention instituted by March 10, the number of infections could instead be closer to 1,700 over that same time period, with just 30 more deaths.
“Social distancing measures are critical to slowing the progression of the COVID-19 epidemic,” the paper concludes.
The scenario where 25,000 people could get infected is based on a “baseline scenario assuming no change [in social distancing intervention] since January 15.”
“More people ill over a longer time frame allows the health care system to manage those people who need to be there,” Duchin said.
When more people are sick in a short time frame, it makes it increasingly difficult for health care professionals and the health care system as a whole to respond to the needs of the community and those who need care.
This data is consistent with what has been observed elsewhere where outbreaks have started, accelerated, and then distancing measures led to reductions in the rate of infections and the total number of infections.
“In China, for example, those communities that put those measures into place earlier did much better than those that didn’t recognize the outbreak until they were way up on that curve,” Duchin said.
Inslee pointed out that the model projects infections only until early April. It is possible that cases could double each week, reaching more than 60,000 by mid-May, with fatalities, without any action.
Health officials are stepping up now to enact measures to reduce social interaction, increase social distancing, and help protect the population from the spread of coronavirus based on these projections and examples set by other countries around the world.
Duchin acknowledged earlier in the press conference Wednesday that the outbreak can not be stopped, but it can be slowed.