Here's How Just One Day of Social Distancing Slows the Spread

Each day's delay in social distancing makes coronavirus outbreaks last days longer.

It's hard to remember what life was like before the coronavirus pandemic began, but there was a time when most of us hadn't even heard the phrase "social distancing." Since then, it's become a normal part of our lives, along with wearing masks and frequent hand washing. Even with states reopening across the country, we are still being encouraged—and in many areas required—to stay six feet apart from other people. But how much of an effect does social distancing actually have? According to a new analysis of data, quite a bit: Each day that cities delayed social distancing measures added 2.4 days to their coronavirus outbreaks.

The University of Texas at Austin study, which is in press with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) journal Emerging Infectious Diseases, looked at 58 cities and compared how long it took these places to implement social distancing. They found that for every one day a city delayed social distancing, it took 2.4 more days for the outbreak to be contained. That means, for example, that delaying social distancing measures by a week could add a full 17 days to the outbreak.

As Lauren Ancel Meyers, a professor of integrative biology and leader of the UT Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, said in a statement, "Every day saves time, saves effort, saves people becoming infected, and probably saves lives."

two white women in face masks waving at each other from a distance in a park

This information is especially relevant as experts warn about the possibility of a second wave of coronavirus. While you might be tired of social distancing and eager to spend time with friends again—in close proximity—the data clearly shows how important social distancing measures are when it comes to slowing the spread of COVID-19. If we do see the start of a second wave, cities will have to act quickly: The UT Austin study shows that every single day matters.

Study co-author Spencer Fox, associate director of the UT Austin COVID-19 Modeling Consortium, acknowledged that it might be challenging to get people to abide by renewed restrictions after experiencing the freedom of reopening. "It will be difficult to consider strict interventions again, but acting early upon signs of resurgence will mean fewer days of social distancing orders," he noted.

The end of the outbreak, as the study defines it, does not mean no more cases of coronavirus, but it does mean that the outbreak has been contained—which means far fewer people subsequently infected, and thus lives saved. "The timing of [social distancing] interventions has a substantial impact on how long an outbreak lasts, how effective our interventions are and, ultimately, how many people might be infected and die from the virus," Meyers added.

And for more on the areas where social distancing is mandatory, here are 10 States Where You Will Be Fined for Not Social Distancing.

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