You Can Help Break the Chain of Transmission

But individuals can do so much, too, because of the exponential increase of cases in an outbreak.

BH: It’s really instructive to compare what happened in Wuhan and what happen in Guangzhou. In Wuhan, they shut down when they had 495 cases in a city that is roughly the size of New York. In neighboring Guangzhou, by contrast, they took action when there were seven cases. The epidemic curve in Guangzhou was completely manageable. As we all know, in Wuhan it was absolutely …

HJ: Catastrophic.

BH: It led to the crisis in the hospitals. And this is the thing that is really important: The peak demand for critical care was roughly a month after the restrictions were put in place.

Right, so here we are, all doing some degree of extreme social distancing or sheltering at home. When will the peak hit? In a month?

BH: It could be a month from now, it could be longer. I want to be wary of getting into the weeds of complicated modeling or predictions. Instead, what I want to get across is: We know that this is a virus capable of doing what it did to Wuhan, and what it is now doing in Italy and Spain and what will almost certainly do in the U.K. Washington State is coming under severe strain. Given what we know the virus is capable of, we should be preparing for it now.

HJ: We should have been preparing months ago.

And how long are the restrictions likely to last. When does it end? The report released Monday from modelers at Imperial College London suggested that we could be in for a long haul.

HJ: It’s a marathon, not a sprint. Everyone needs to come to terms psychologically with the idea that this is going to last a long time. It’s going to be a long-term effort to “flatten the curve.” If we can successfully bring down the case numbers to a manageable level, then we can reassess the situation. By then, we will hopefully have more science to inform our decision-making, and we will have ramped up testing capacity substantially.

We all must social-distance as much as possible to limit the impact. Utmost in my mind at the moment are the health care workers, some of whom are my friends, who are going to be on the front lines. They are the heroes, and by limiting transmission, we are all helping them do their jobs and save lives.

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