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Study suggests COVID-19 cases could be 35 times higher without social distancing measures

Posted at 11:17 PM, May 15, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-15 23:17:07-04

LEXINGTON, Ky. (LEX 18) — Without social distancing measures in place, the number of COVID-19 cases in the United States could have surpassed 35 million by late April, according to a study published in the peer-reviewed journal Health Affairs.

Researchers from the University of Kentucky, University of Louisville and Georgia State University studied the impact of social distancing policies on the spread of COVID-19 across more than 3,000 counties nationwide.

“What our study illustrates is these measures were highly effective. In fact, perhaps so effective that people actually don't think that COVID-19 is nearly as big of a deal as it actually is,” said Dr. Aaron Yelowitz, one of the study’s co-authors and researcher in the UK Gatton College of Business and Economics.

The study observed confirmed coronavirus cases between March 1 and April 27. It focused on four widely-used social distancing policies: stay-in-place orders, closing of restaurants and entertainment businesses, school closures, and banning of large gatherings.

The findings suggest social distancing substantially impacts the spread of disease, and populations in areas without any in place are at a significantly higher risk for infection.

Stay-in-place orders and the closing of restaurants and entertainment businesses “substantially slowed the spread of COVID-19,” according to the study.

“We did not find evidence that bans on large events and closures of public schools also did, though the confidence intervals cannot rule out moderately sized effects,” reads the study.

“What we found is that the social distancing measures dramatically bent the curve on the disease. Why they did might be more speculative, but the fact that they did is essentially a done deal,” said Yelowitz.

You can read the full study here.