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coronavirus, economy, social distancing, Seattle
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Research paper claims social distancing needed for ’18 months or more’

The area near Pike Place Market in Seattle is nearly devoid of root traffic and crowds. (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

A paper released by Imperial College posits that in order to truly mitigate the risk of coronavirus and its ongoing spread, social distancing measures would need to be in place “until a vaccine becomes available (potentially 18 months or more).”

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In a scenario where cases start to dip and suppression measures are relaxed before a vaccine is produced, the paper claims that “transmission will quickly rebound.”

That timeline is echoed in the U.S. government’s own 100-page plan for the pandemic, which spans 18 months, and warns that the outbreak could come in “multiple waves.”

The Imperial College paper labels the coronavirus outbreak as the most serious health threat posed by a respiratory virus since the 1918 Spanish Flu.

“The global impact of COVID-19 has been profound,” it notes.

It goes on to recommend that in both the United Kingdom and the U.S., limiting the spread of coronavirus will “minimally require a combination of social distancing of the entire population, home isolation of cases and household quarantine of family members.”

It details two possible strategies: Mitigation (lighter measures that focus on slowing the spread of coronavirus) and suppression (more extreme measures designed to reverse the spread and “maintain the situation indefinitely”).

Graphs: Coronavirus cases across the US and Worldwide

It found that “optimal mitigation strategies” could reduce the peak demand on health care services by two-thirds and cut deaths in half. Even so, it “would still likely result in hundreds of thousands of deaths,” while health services — even with reduced demand — would still be “overwhelmed many times over.”

That leaves ongoing, consistent suppression measures akin to what we’re seeing in Washington state as “the preferred policy option.” In order to avoid having the virus rebound and spread again, those measures would have to be in place until a vaccine can be distributed.

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