Why Would It Be Detrimental If We Stopped Social Distancing Early?

By Ivan Pesut on March 26 2020 in Society

Social distancing is the new norm to avoid the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Social distancing is the new norm to avoid the rapid spread of the COVID-19 pandemic.
  • COVID-19 is a virus that is easily spread
  • The purpose of social distancing is to limit the human contact as much as possible
  • The uncontrollable spread of COVID-19 could seriously overwhelm the health care system

Because of the outbreak of COVID-19, it might seem at times as if the world has stopped. It did not – it just moved inside the closed walls. Currently, the main goal throughout the world is to slow down the spread of the virus. For this to happen, public bodies are implementing many health measures. You have probably heard about quarantine and self-isolation, but the primary measure right now seems to be social distancing.   

What Is The Purpose Of Social Distancing?   

Social distancing means to increase the physical space between people, as much as possible. Since the virus is easily spread, social distancing has to limit the contact between people as much as possible. Because of this measure, many social gatherings have now been canceled or delayed. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued a recommendation stating that people should be six feet away from each other, at least. It is nearly impossible to keep this distance in some of the busier streets of urban centers, let alone in social gatherings. Currently, there are several ways social distancing is achieved: people are working from home more and more, some schools have closed and switched their classes online, business meetings and conferences have been postponed, etc. Our public life is re-organized to help the virus spread, and we are helping each other by staying in our homes.   

What Would Happen Without Social Distancing?

Governments throughout the world started to implement a number of health measures after one scientific analysis was published. It was made by a group of scientists at Imperial College London who conducted a prediction of the COVID-19 spread in the future. Their predictions were calculated based on a few scenarios and the statistics of all the COVID-19 cases worldwide. The results asked for urgent action. As these predictions showed, without reducing human contact as much as possible, the virus would spread so fast that the health care system would collapse. This does not necessarily mean the virus itself is dangerous to an individual. But the sheer number of infected people in a short period would overwhelm the health care system. Each country, including the U.S., has both patient and staff capacity, which can be extended but not to the scale needed for the uncontrolled spread of the virus.   

According to the researchers’ predictions, without any public measure without mitigation of the spread, about 2.2. Million people would die in the U.S. For health care systems to provide needed care for those who are sick, the number of patients should increase as slow as possible. In the U.K., for example, public bodies did not want to implement any measures regarding COVID-19. Once the report was published and saw how grim its predictions are, their prime minister quickly changed his mind and started implementing measures of social distancing.   

What If We Stopped Social Distancing?

It is becoming evident that social distancing is having an enormous toll on the economy. Production has stopped, the stock market is going down, and a lot of people are losing their jobs as their firms are not able to pay them. In an environment like that, everybody is wondering when will these measures stop and what would actually happen if we stopped. Well, the case of Hong Kong can be a lesson here. On March 2nd, Hong Kong had only about a hundred cases of COVID-19 but started with measures of social distancing immediately. Those seemed to work as the number of cases started to get lower. It seemed as if Hong Kong could be taken as a model of how to deal with the spread of the virus. Once the number of cases became stable, Hong Kong let its guard down and removed social distancing. What happened then? Well, a week ago, cases of COVID-19 started to grow again. This situation is very much in line with researchers’ prediction – in the following months, we will likely have to implement social distancing in waves. Right now, there is a possibility that the spread of the virus can be managed with waves of reduced human contact as much as possible. Without social distancing, the consequences of COVID-19 could be detrimental.   

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