Social distancing interventions started earlier in the COVID-19 epidemic appear to delay the epidemic curve while interventions started later appear to flatten it, according to a new study published in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal.

The authors used a mathematical model to estimate the proportion of COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths averted in the first 100 days of the epidemic in a mid-sized city under social distancing scenarios involving four groups: adults age 60 and over; children and adults age 60 and over; all adults; and all children and adults.

“Surprisingly, cases, and hence hospitalizations and deaths, can be reduced by 90% during the first 100 days if all groups reduce their contacts with others, even when adults do so by only 25%,” they said. “…Our simulations suggest that even in the more optimistic scenario in which all age groups reduce their contact rates >85%, the epidemic is set to rebound once the social distancing interventions are lifted.” 

Noting that sustaining social distancing interventions over several months might not be feasible economically and socially, the authors said their models suggest that “a combination of social distancing interventions, testing, isolation, and contact tracing of new cases is needed to suppress transmission of SARS-CoV-2.”

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