On October 26th, the seven-day average for positive Covid-19 cases in the US was over seventy thousand—a new record. On October 29th, another record was set when over ninety thousand cases were reported in a single day. We are nowhere near the end of the pandemic. As the federal government banks on vaccine development, millions will be infected in the coming weeks and months. As demonstrated by China and others, public health initiatives like school closures, public event bans, and mask mandates beat Covid-19 swiftly and effectively.
The Lancet’s Infectious Disease Journal released a study confirming China’s strategy. Researchers analyzed 131 countries at 790 different phases of policy implementation. They looked at public initiatives like school and workplace closures, public event bans, bans on gatherings larger than ten, public transportation closures, stay at home requirements, and internal and international movement limits. They monitored the R-value, or the number of secondary cases that a primary case may cause, of these countries. Whether the R-value is above or below one determines if a pandemic is on the rise or decline.
The study confirms what public health experts have been suggesting for months: almost all of the public health initiatives studied reduced the viruses R-value.
The figure above shows the range of R-values 28 days after an initiative is put in place and after it is lifted. Researchers found that six of the eight initiatives tested made a notable difference in R-value, two of which made significant differences. School closures and public events bans had significant sway over the R-value when enacted and revoked. Workplace closures, large gathering bans, stay at home orders, and internal movement limits also affected the R-value, but less significantly. International travel limits and public transport closures did not affect R in any statistically significant way.
What are the implications of this study? As the graph above shows, six of the eight policies improve R-values for Covid-19 between three and 24 percent. That said, the effects of a policy being implemented appear at least a week or longer after the policy is put in place. In the case of large gathering bans, effects are not fully seen until three weeks following implementation. These policies work but on a delay. The federal government must consider a return to some of these six initiatives, then the American people must be patient with the results.
Pairing them with significant mask use could counteract the unprecedented case numbers Americans face today. There have been two major resurgences of the virus since the pandemic began. After the economy reopened and after schools reopened. This study proves that reopening the economy and schools directly influenced the case resurgences.
As the weather grows colder, the Covid-19 case rate will continue to climb. People will be forced inside at their workplaces, at restaurants, etc. The continued neglect to reimplement Covid-19 controls by the federal and state governments is irresponsible. Over 700 people are dying per day on average and that rate is accelerating.
China was able to control the spread of the virus with a stringent combination of the policies above. They have still not surpassed one hundred thousand cases in a country of over a billion people. The United States could realistically reach one hundred thousand cases per day by the end of the year.
People are clearly succumbing to pandemic fatigue. They are tired of the isolation and want to return to normal life. Unfortunately, the time to return to normal life is not now, nor will that time come for a moment. Covid-19 is worse than ever in the United States. As the study shows, these policies take a few weeks to show an effect. Americans need to be patient. Stay home, wear a mask, and then we will all be able to return to a normal life together after the storm passes.