The lives of about 36,000 people could have been saved if the US had begun imposing social distancing measures just a week earlier than it did in March to control the spread of the coronavirus, new estimates from Columbia University show.
“Counterfactual simulations indicate that, had these same control measures been implemented just 1-2 weeks earlier, a substantial number of cases and deaths could have been averted,” the University said in an analysis by Sen Pei, Sasikiran Kandula and Jeffrey Shaman.
A report in The New York Times, citing the analysis said that if the US had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than when most people started staying indoors, about 83 per cent of the people who died so far from the virus could have been saved.
Under this scenario, about 54,000 fewer people would have died by early May.
“The enormous cost of waiting to take action reflects the unforgiving dynamics of the outbreak that swept through American cities in early March. Even small differences in timing would have prevented the worst exponential growth, which by April had subsumed New York City, New Orleans and other major cities,” the researchers found.
“It’s a big, big difference. That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia and the leader of the research team.
The NYT article said the findings are based on infectious disease modeling that gauges how reduced contact between people starting in mid-March slowed transmission of the virus.
Shaman’s team modeled what would have happened if those same changes had taken place one or two weeks earlier and estimated the spread of infections and deaths until May 3.
The report said that the results show that as states reopen, outbreaks can easily get out of control unless officials closely monitor infections and immediately clamp down on new flare-ups.
In the New York metro area alone, 21,800 people had died by May 3. Fewer than 4,300 would have died by then if control measures had been put in place and adopted nationwide just a week earlier, on March 8, the researchers estimated.
Further, Lauren Ancel Meyers, a University of Texas at Austin epidemiologist who was not involved in the research, said that the research shows 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.”