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Expert: Social distancing won’t work until whole country shuts down

Experts have advocated for nationwide social distancing measures. (Jonathan Hayward/The Canadian Press via AP)

States across the country have enacted stay-at-home orders and other social distancing measures to slow the spread of coronavirus. Until that effort is coordinated across every state, though, it may be hard to fully mitigate the outbreak.

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“One thing we do know is that in different states, social distancing is occurring in different ways,” Columbia University virologist Dr. Angela Rasmussen told KIRO Radio’s Gee and Ursula Show. “Largely that has been driven by the local government of those states putting social distance measures into place, and they’ve been put into place with varying degrees of urgency, and people are cooperating with those to varying degrees themselves.”

As of publishing, 39 states — as well as Washington, D.C. — are currently operating under stay-at-home orders. Partial orders are in effect in Alabama, Missouri, Oklahoma, South Carolina, Utah, and Wyoming, while Arkansas, Iowa, Nebraska, North Dakota, and South Dakota haven’t enacted any orders at all.

And while in some ways it makes sense to not enact more stringent measures within a more sparsely-populated state, in today’s highly-connected society, it’s not difficult for the virus to quickly move across state lines.

“We live in a global, very interconnected world,” said Dr. Rasmussen. “Even though now international travel and domestic travel are incredibly reduced, people are going to start moving around.”

“As soon as people are able to go out and interact with people, they’re going to start doing that, and we could potentially see more cases,” she added.

That’s echoed by other health experts, including the leading U.S. authority on pandemics, Dr. Anthony Fauci, who recently expressed his frustration at the lack of a country-wide stay-at-home order.

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“The tension between federally mandated versus states rights to do what they want is something I don’t want to get into, but if you look at what’s going on in this country I just don’t understand why we’re not doing that — we really should be,” Dr. Fauci said Thursday.

In the meantime, states that are currently operating under strict social distancing measures can likely expect that to continue for weeks, and possibly months.

“Unfortunately for most of us, that social distancing is going to have to continue for a while,” cautioned Dr. Rasmussen.

Listen to the Gee and Ursula Show weekday mornings from 9 a.m. – 12 p.m. on KIRO Radio, 97.3 FM. Subscribe to the podcast here.

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