Americans should begin social distancing (no handshaking, eliminate non-essential travel and meetings). The reason is not so much to get practice or to reduce personal risk as to reduce the imminent intensity of the Covid-19 epidemic and spare health care system.
If we reduce the spread, even if we ultimately have the same total number of cases, we can ‘flatten the curve,’ which means that, at any given time, our health care system can cope with the Covid-19 cases, hopefully.
The U.S.A. has a lower hospital capacity (2.9 beds/1,000 people) than China (4.2), Australia (3.8), Italy (3.4), Japan (13.4), and Korea (11.5). Reports indicate that the Covid-19 epidemic filled the hospitals in the Wuhan and Milan regions. I suspect Washington state will also be taxed.
Another advantage of ‘flattening the curve’ of the Covid-19 epidemic by implementing social distancing now is that more of the cases that ultimately occur will occur at a (later) time point when (perhaps!) a vaccine or better treatment will be available.
This report, by our amazing U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), aptly entitled “Community Mitigation Guidelines to Prevent Pandemic Influenza — United States, 2017,” published three years ago, gives much good advice. Pandemics recur. We should prepare and remain calm.
The issue of school closures is complex. They have been shown to be very effective at curtailing flu epidemics, but must be implemented early, before the first case is detected in a school. So it’s tough call! I think it likely we will see school closures in the U.S.
Just look at this concerning report out of Italy. Doctors are being called out of retirement. Some 9% of patients with Covid-19 need ICU (this was was 5% in China). We must work together to keep health care system ready.
Update: On March 15, national recommendations are finally being made to increase physical distancing and reduce social mixing, in order to flatten the curve.