Study: Social distancing has led to plateau, not decline in COVID-19 cases

Local News

ROCHESTER, N.Y. (WROC) — Social distancing may not be as effective as we hoped, according to a local study that shows new cases are stuck in a plateau. Researchers at the University of Rochester and Cornell University studied COVID-19 cases before and after social distancing. First and foremost, Social distancing has been a significant way to reduce the numbers of cases.

There were two main takeaways from this study. The first is that cases went from doubling every three days to doubling every 100 days. A statistically significant drop in the number of cases reported. The bad news is that this resulted in a plateau for nearly every state and similar results for other countries have emerged. 

“After social distancing, rather than contracting, they just sort of plateaued,” said Aaron Wagner, author on the study and Cornell University professor of electrical and computer engineering, “So we ended up right on the fine line between the increase, and the decrease.” 

Wagner said the hypothesis of the study was that social distancing would lead to a drop in cases, not a plateau. The leveling off of new cases is unusual. “It’s so hard to achieve, it almost doesn’t even arise in practice. It’s just something that you study purely mathematically and now we’re living in a mathematical curiosity.” 

The study analyzes how the correlation between closing of k-12 schools and restaurants with cases. Twelve days after most states closed schools and restaurants, the plateau started. 

Elaine Hill UofR professor of public health sciences) “Social distancing is blunt in nature,” said Elaine Hill, University of Rochester professor of public health Sciences, “As we learn more, there could be refinements that could be put in place to improve the effectiveness.” 

Hill says that this study shows how the United States version of social distancing has performed. A different form of social distancing where all buisnesses were forced to shut down may have provided a different result. Moving forward, there will continue to be questions on what is the most effective way of slowing the spread. 

“As we relax social distancing, as we open up, the numbers might not immediately start to increase and people might start to think, ‘ok this is not a problem’. Then a good two weeks later they start to increase,” said Wagner. 

Future research may look at how testing, contact tracing, and wearing masks have influenced rate of infection. 

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