A study that was published today in Nature looked at the effect stay-at-home order and other restrictions had in reducing the spread of COVID-19. It found that they prevented 60 million infections in the United States and 285 million in China. A different study conducted at the Imperial College London, also published in Nature today, shows that shutdowns saved close to 3.1 million lives in 11 European countries and reduced the rate of infection by 82%.
The researchers affirm that this information proves the shutdowns were successful at stopping the virus from spreading exponentially. The team that studied the United States and China, along with France, Italy, Iran and South Korea, estimated that in the first few days after the virus made its way into each country, the number of infections was doubling every two days. They also approximate that since most individuals who are infected aren’t tested, the actual number of cases averted is probably closer to 530 million (for all six countries combined). According to Solomon Hsiang, director of the Global Policy Laboratory at the University of California at Berkeley and the leader of the research team, the response of shutdowns resulted in “saving more lives in a shorter period of time than ever before.”
While good progress has been made, experts warn that the pandemic is far from over. Per one of the researchers on the Imperial investigation, Samir Bhatt, in the countries that they’re studying, only about 3 – 4% of people have been infected. This means that we’re a long way from heard immunity and is why it’s critical to not remove all the safety measures that have been put into place. Bhatt puts it this way, “The risk of a second wave happening if all interventions and precautions are abandoned is very real.”
This news comes as many are protesting in mass gatherings the death of George Floyd, a black man killed by a Minneapolis police officer placing a knee on his neck for almost nine minutes. Despite the necessity of making their voices heard, some individuals are concerned about contracting COVID-19. Public health officials are also worried. Since many states had started reopening in the past few weeks, 23 have already seen a rise in their rolling seven-day averages. Public health officials expect there’ll be spikes in cases as a result of the protests.
There has been some discrepancy when it comes to “allowing” these protests to happen. Some feel that officials are letting politics influence their recommendations on social distancing and shutdowns. In April, when individuals had gathered to express their anger about shutdowns still being in place, many public health and elected officials condemned these actions. Now, some of those same officials are saying that protesting police violence is a more important issue than preventing the spread of the virus. According to a letter signed by over 1,200 health professionals, “We do not condemn these gatherings as risky for covid-19 transmission. We support them as vital to the national public health and to the threatened health specifically of Black people in the United States…This should not be confused with a permissive stance on all gatherings, particularly protests against stay-home orders.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said “There is certainly a risk. It’s a difficult situation. We have the right to peacefully demonstrate and the demonstrators are exercising that right.” He further went on, “It’s a delicate balance because the reasons for demonstrating are valid and yet the demonstration itself puts oneself at an additional risk. The only thing we can do as public health officials is to keep warning people to be careful.”