Coronavirus: Social distancing is key to combating pandemic / Opinion – Commercial Appeal

How much for how long will this last? That is the question people ask most frequently about the COVID-19 pandemic.

To answer this question we need to understand the major factor that is fueling the pandemic: It is people. People connecting to people allows the virus to jump from person to person, doubling every six days.

We can starve the virus by not allowing it access to our contacts. Imagine, if some imposter wanted the list of names on our contact list, would you give them up? Certainly not. What the coronavirus is doing is getting access to our body and getting to our contacts. To stop the pandemic, we must stop this.

We do this simply by social distancing. This means staying home, not gathering in large crowds and not touching one another. We need to stay six feet away from others or wear a mask if we will be closer.

So how much social distancing do we need to do?

We can estimate the benefit given where we are in the epidemic now (about 10 patients are hospitalized with COVID-19 infection) in a population of 1.4 million people in the Greater Memphis area.

The epidemic curve based on the University of Pennsylvania model shows that if we did not do social distancing.

The epidemic curve based on the University of Pennsylvania model shows that if we did not do social distancing. (Photo: University of Pennsylvania)

The epidemic curve based on the University of Pennsylvania model shows that if we did not do social distancing, then we may have over 1,500 admissions to our hospitals per day with a census of nearly 10,000 at the peak. This would be over five times our present capacity.

The epidemic curve based on the University of Pennsylvania model shows that if we did not do social distancing.

The epidemic curve based on the University of Pennsylvania model shows that if we did not do social distancing. (Photo: University of Pennsylvania)

However, this will not happen, because we are taking early action to stop the spread of the virus. This action may translate to some level of social distancing.

The epidemic curve based on the University of Pennsylvania model shows that if we did only 35% social distancing.

The epidemic curve based on the University of Pennsylvania model shows that if we did only 35% social distancing. (Photo: University of Pennsylvania)

If we do 35% social distancing, then the peak will occur in three and a half months with daily admission of 300 patients in our hospitals, reaching a a daily hospital census of of 2,100. Given our overall bed capacity, this may consume most, if not all, of the beds for the brief time.

The epidemic curve based on the University of Pennsylvania model shows that if we did only 35% social distancing.

The epidemic curve based on the University of Pennsylvania model shows that if we did only 35% social distancing. (Photo: University of Pennsylvania)

To stop the epidemic in its tracks we need to do just 65% social distancing. That’s all. Because then the reproductive rate of the epidemic is below one and the epidemic dwindles, rather than escalates. And the epidemic line flattens with no further hospitalizations.

The reproductive rate of the epidemic rate flatlines if we do 65% social distancing.

The reproductive rate of the epidemic rate flatlines if we do 65% social distancing. (Photo: University of Pennsylvania)

It’s simple math. If one person infected less than one person, then in a week you do have some infections but it is less than the previous week.

But how do we measure social distancing? So we have creative minds at the University of Memphis working on methods to calculate the percent of social distancing happening in our city.

Again, if we can achieve the magic number of 65% social distancing over two to four weeks, we can stall this epidemic. The local residential community, business community and young people need to know this and act now. 

At this time now more than ever we need to work as a community. Even though you may be young and healthy, your actions and activity and practice of social distancing will impact the lives of hundreds and thousands of elderly in our community.

Source: Commercial Appeal