The COVID-19 coronavirus seemed to spread across the globe at breakneck pace. Over 600,000 people have died from the virus. Was there a way to slow the spread, reduced infections and saved lives? A new study says yes, but only with a comprehensive approach to the problem.
The Chinese coronavirus SARS-CoV-2, the underlying pathogen that causes COVID-19, seemed to take the world by storm after its escape from Wuhan. Leaked news reports from within China tell us that their initial experience with COVID-19 was just as bad, if not worse, than ours.
We knew little about the virus until it got to Europe and the US. We were initially told by China that the virus had no human-to-human transmission capability. The World Health Organization (WHO) repeated this lie.
Here in the US, we were first told that masks didn’t work. We were told to was our hands and keep six feet apart from each other. Later, we were told masks did work.
The first time we were told this, we were told not to wear them so that front-line medical workers would have enough to go around. Finally, we were told that they would help stop the spread and that we should all wear them.
The media was no help. Public health authorities seemed confused, disorganized and dysfunctional. To some degree, it is understandable. This was a novel and mysterious virus, or so we thought.
According to new research led by Alexandra Teslya and her colleagues of the University Medical Center Utrecht in the Netherlands, we could have mitigated the spread and delayed the peak of COVID-19 cases using an “all of the above” approach. By extension, we would likely have reduced our death toll as well. Their research is published in PLOS Medicine this week.
That “all of the above” approach should have included the government’s imposed policy of physical distancing and limiting gathering sizes. But more important would have been the self-imposed prevention efforts. Those include physical distancing along with the wearing of masks and frequent hand-washing.
The COVID-19 coronavirus has made its way to 188 of the 195 recognized nations of the world as of this writing. Public health and governmental authorities still seem baffled about how to slow it down and defeat it. They may want to take a look at the model developed by the Utrecht team.
The Dutch researchers have created a computer model for the spread of COVID-19 that’s based on available information regarding the epidemiology of the virus. They’ve used their model to look at the predicted effects of different types and combinations of types of prevention measures on both the spread rate and the total number of cases.
Their findings indicate that with any given population, early awareness of the coming of the virus combined with both government measures like physical distancing and gathering size limits and self-imposed prevention techniques can reduce case counts and slow the march toward peak case counts. If fifty percent or more of the population uses all the prevention measures – distancing, gathering size limits, hand-washing, mask-wearing – a large epidemic can actually be prevented, according to their model.
While early use of government-imposed physical distancing was shown to delay the peak of the epidemic, it had no effect on the peak total case count. A slower implementation of self-imposed techniques was shown to reduce total cases, but didn’t slow the movement to peak case counts.
While their model doesn’t account for population demographics or variable contact patterns of people, it did offer a fairly strong indication of what does work. Early implementation of government-imposed distancing and self-imposed prevention measures will yield the best result – lower case counts and a delayed peak case count.
“We stress the importance of disease awareness in controlling the ongoing epidemic and recommend that, in addition to policies on social distancing, government and public health institutions mobilize people to adopt self-imposed measures with proven efficacy in order to successfully tackle COVID-19,” the authors say.
Commenting on the findings, Prof. Yuming Guo of Monash University in Australia wrote with his colleagues that they don’t just apply to the initial outbreaks of COVID-19. The outlined strategy will also be effective against any “second wave” or even future viral epidemics. Ethnic minorities, elderly people and other at-risk populations would particularly benefit from early awareness and implementation of self-imposed mitigation measures during these events.
The group writes, “Many of the self-imposed prevention strategies have very limited impact on the economy but contribute very significantly to epidemic control and are likely to play a very substantial role in control.”
Since this is modeling research only, it makes assumptions about the efficacy of masks and the impact of mask-wearing on viral spread in general. It also assumes that the distancing recommendations of governments are the correct ones. While research continues on whether we got those two things right, anecdotal evidence continues to mount that the idea espoused in this model is accurate.
It’s possible that, had we used these measures early on, economies around the world may have been able to remain open and functioning. That would have mitigated much of the collateral damage of the shutdowns here in the US and abroad. According to the model detailed above, it may also have had a very large positive impact on the course of the virus. That would have been a win-win, in my opinion.
Keep the faith and keep after it!
Related Content –
Best And Worst Mask Materials For Defending Against COVID-19 Coronavirus
Study Says Wearing Masks May Reduce COVID-19 Coronavirus Transmission
Was The Early COVID-19 Coronavirus Infection Rate 80 Times Higher Than Estimated?