Delays in social distancing prolong COVID-19 outbreak, UT study says

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AUSTIN (KXAN) –  A new study by researchers at The University of Texas at Austin found that social distancing delays by one day can lead to COVID-19 spreading for 2.4 extra days. 

The study looked at virus outbreaks in 58 cities across China. Researchers analyzed when first cases were detected, when social distancing measures including staying 6 feet apart, wearing masks and staying home were implemented and when the outbreak was considered contained.

“What we found is that prolonging implementation of interventions prolongs the epidemic which will ultimately mean more infections, more hospitalizations and more deaths in a community,” said Dr. Spencer Fox, associate director of the UT Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium and co-author on the paper.

Fox explained that in Austin, city leaders canceling South by Southwest in early March helped with spreading of the virus. 

According to the data, waiting a week after early signs of resurgence might require about 17 more days of social distancing to slow the spread of the virus. 

“Every day saves time, saves effort, saves people becoming infected and probably saves lives,” said Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology who leads the UT Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium. “This is particularly important as we think about the coming weeks and months.”

Meyers explained that the impact of delays are particularly important to nursing homes, colleges, schools and jails which are more prone to rapid transmission, “We need concrete plans for when and how to respond to rising cases to prevent unnecessarily long and costly restrictions.”

The research is being published in the CDC’s journal Emerging Infectious Diseases. Fox said the next phase will include looking at similar data across the country.

“Individual behavior matters and people should continue to act like we’re in the middle of a pandemic even if they don’t necessarily see cases being around them,” explained Fox. 

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