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US may've avoided coronavirus deaths if lockdowns imposed earlier: NYT – Business Insider – Business Insider

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  • About 83% of US coronavirus deaths could have been avoided if nationwide lockdowns were imposed March 1, researchers at Columbia University estimate. The research has yet to be peer-reviewed.
  • The disease modelers estimated that if lockdowns were imposed March 8 — a week before the Trump administration issued social-distancing guidelines — 36,000 fewer people would have died from COVID-19.
  • On March 9, however, President Donald Trump was still downplaying the severity of the virus and touting his travel restrictions on China; by then, the virus already had begun its undetected spread throughout the US.
  • “It’s a big, big difference,” the epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman, who led the Columbia research team, told The New York Times. “That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”
  • Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.

Researchers estimate that if a nationwide lockdown had been imposed in the US on March 1 — just two weeks before the country began widely adopting social-distancing measures — about 83% of its coronavirus deaths could have been avoided, The New York Times reported Wednesday.

State-wide lockdowns were imposed in mid- to late March as cases began to rise in the US. At the start of March, there were about 20 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

But a lack of a widespread testing strategy at the time allowed the virus to spread undetected in communities around the country, researchers at Northeastern University previously told The Times.

“It’s a big, big difference,” the epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman, who led the Columbia research team, told The Times. “That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”

March proved to be a crucial time of action, as cases spiked in the US come April. President Donald Trump continued to downplay the threat of the coronavirus in the country, however, and frame it as a foreign threat from China.

“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on,” Trump tweeted March 9. “At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

Disease modelers at Columbia University found that if sweeping stay-at-home orders were imposed just after the first week of March, on March 8, as many as 36,000 fewer people would have died from the coronavirus by May 3, according to the Times article.

The research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, was “based on infectious disease modeling that gauges how reduced contact between people starting in mid-March slowed transmission of the virus,” The Times reported.

A researcher not involved with the study, Lauren Ancel Meyers, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas at Austin, told The Times, “This implies that if interventions had occurred two weeks earlier, many COVID-19 deaths and cases would have been prevented by early May, not just in New York City but throughout the US.”

The president consistently touts his decision to impose travel restrictions on China and, eventually, other countries as crucial in minimizing the coronavirus’ threat to Americans, but the virus nevertheless managed to spread largely undetected throughout the states.

In the absence of a coronavirus vaccine, experts have said the safest way to reopen the country is to establish a nationwide testing and contact-tracing system to identify COVID-19 cases and properly quarantine the sick.

Researchers at Harvard have estimated that the US would need to administer at least 20 million coronavirus tests a day by late July to “fully remobilize the country.” Testing in the US remains far short of that goal, with a little under 13 million total tests being done across the country as of May 20.

After federal guidelines for social distancing expired at the end of April, states have been rushing to reopen their economies, some of which have not met the proper criteria to do so safely, a Johns Hopkins University researcher asserted during her congressional testimony.

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