Experts Explained Why Staying Home Now Can Save Lives
As the coronavirus continues to spread in the U.S., more and more businesses are sending employees off to work from home. Public schools are closing, universities are holding classes online, major events are getting canceled and cultural institutions are shutting their doors. Even Disney World and Disneyland are set to close. The disruption of daily life for many Americans is real and significant — but so are the potential life-saving benefits.
The idea is to increase social distancing in order to slow the spread of the virus, so that you don’t get a huge spike in the number of people getting sick all at once. If that were to happen, there wouldn’t be enough hospital beds or mechanical ventilators for everyone who needs them, and the U.S. hospital system would be overwhelmed. That’s already happening in Italy.
“Think about our health care system as a subway car and now it’s rush hour, and all people want to get on the car once, they start squeezing into the car,” says Drew Harris, population health researcher at the Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. “They pile up on the platform to get in to the car. There’s just not enough room in the car to take care of everybody, to accommodate everybody. That’s the system that is overwhelmed. People wind up not getting services that they need.”
These two curves have already played out in the U.S during the 1918 flu pandemic. Research has shown that the faster authorities moved to implement the kinds of social distancing measures designed to slow the transmission of disease, the more lives were saved. And the history of two U.S. cities, Philadelphia and St. Louis and illustrates just how great a difference those measures can be.
In Philadelphia, Harris notes, city officials ignored warnings from infectious disease experts that the flu was already circulating in their community.
Instead, they moved forward with a massive parade that brought hundreds of thousands of people together. “Within 48. 72 hours, thousands of people around the Philadelphia region started to die,” Harris notes. Within 6 months, about16.000 people had died.
Meanwhile, St. Louis where the officials is, Mo., had a greatly different public health response at the moment. Within two days of the first reported cases, the city quickly moved to social isolation strategies, according to a 2007 analysis.
“They are trying hard to limit the travel of people from other places around the world and implement public health 101 — isolating and treating the sick, quarantining the people who have been exposed to disease, closing the schools, encouraging social distancing of people,” Harris says.
As a result, St. Louis suffered just one-eighth of the flu fatalities that Philadelphia saw, according to that 2007 research. But if St. Louis had waited another week or two to act, it might have suffered a similar fate as Philadelphia, the researchers concluded.
By the time the 2007 research was released in USA, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and a leading adviser in the U.S. response to COVID-19. said the evidence was clear that early intervention was critical in the midst of the 1918 pandemic.
As for just how big the current coronavirus pandemic will be in America? “It is going to be totally dependent upon how we respond to it,” Fauci told Congress earlier this week.
“I can’t give you a number,” he said. “we are not able to offer you a realistic number until we put into the factor of how we can respond later. If we’re complacent and don’t do really aggressive containment and mitigation, the number could go way up and be involved in many, many millions.”