Earlier US lockdown 'could have saved tens of thousands of lives'

Paramedics and firefighters with Anne Arundel County Fire Department load a presumptive COVID-19 patient onto the ambulance

A researcher not involved with the study, Lauren Ancel Meyers an epidemiologist at the University of Texas at Austin, said, "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 United States". "As a effect, early intervention and fast response are critical for limiting morbidity and mortality", the researchers wrote in the preprint study, which has not yet been peer reviewed.

If lockdowns were imposed on March 8 - a week earlier than when the Trump administration imposed federal social distancing guidelines - the disease modelers at the university estimated that 36,000 fewer people would have died from COVID-19. They simulated undocumented and documented cases, tracked transmission in every county and movement between the counties, and analyzed how the virus spread by looking at the deaths over seven weeks.

Enacting stricter lockdown measures under that scenario would have prevented approximately 54,000 deaths, the researcher's models showed, at a time when the country ended up having 65,307 deaths.

The researchers found that even small differences in timing would have prevented the worst exponential growth, which by April had swept through New York City, New Orleans and other major cities.

At least 1,551,853 cases of the disease have been recorded, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. Although New York City schools shut on 15 March, it was another week before a total lockdown was introduced.

The simulations found that had social distancing policies been put in place one week earlier on March 8, 703,975 confirmed coronavirus cases and 35,927 deaths could've been avoided nationwide by May 3. Many states still have stay-at-home orders or other social distancing policies in effect, and some cities and counties are maintaining shutdown orders.

"I wish we had known so much more in January, February, the beginning of March". Or if we had known then the things we know now, what we would have been able to do for people.

"We have to be so responsive and so attentive to what's going on", researcher Jeffrey Shaman tells NPR, "and able to quickly identify when there's a resurgence of the infection in the community and to respond to it quickly and to have the will to do so and not repeat our mistakes". "Who should have known?", he said to reporters. What worldwide health organization?

It said the findings "underscore the importance of earlier intervention and aggressive response in controlling" the virus.

And, with restrictions being eased across New York State and portions of the country, the same researchers warn that "rapid response remains essential to avoid large-scale resurgences of infections and deaths in locations with reopening plans".

"Efforts to further raise public awareness of the ongoing high transmissibility and explosive growth potential of COVID-19 are still needed at this critical time", the researchers wrote.

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