No sign of curve flattening? Don’t give up!

Epidemiologist urges patience - it will take time for social distancing to show results

Coronavirus Florida March case growth
Coronavirus Florida March case growth (WJXT)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Four weeks after Florida identified its first two positive cases of COVID-19, the state’s Department of Health reports more than 4,200 Floridians and visitors to our state now have the disease and 56 in the state have died.

Three weeks ago, health officials began telling us we must flatten the curve to keep rapidly spreading COVID-19 infections from overwhelming the nation’s hospitals. Schools closed, large events were canceled and everyone was urged to wash their hands thoroughly and socially distance.

With cases continuing to double every few days the second half of March, governments released ever more restrictive executive orders: No gatherings of more than 50. Then the limit was 10. Disney World, University Studios and other theme parks closed. Then bars and nightclubs shut down. Then on-site dining was banned -- take-out or delivery only. Work-from-home was mandated where it can be done and six-foot distancing practiced where people have to go to work.

Some states and many cities have issued shelter-in-place orders. Despite tourism being Florida’s largest source of revenue, In the last few days, Gov. Ron DeSantis told visitors from four states where the infection rate is higher than ours to quarantine for 14 days. He also ended all short-term rentals for two weeks.

The last of Northeast Florida’s beaches finally closed Sunday.

Is this mandated isolation working?

Florida cases

Northeast Florida cases

Could the curve be flattening and we just don’t see it yet?

Experts say the rate of growth might have been even steeper if the social isolation steps were not taken. And because -- 1) only a fraction of 1% of Floridians have been tested for COVID-19, 2) it can take up to 14 days for symptoms to show up after exposure, and 3) it is taking five days or more for results of those tests to come back -- the results we’re seeing could be three weeks behind what’s really out there.

While most believe we haven’t seen the peak, we can take some solace from data from a few areas of the world where the COVID-19 battle began a month or more before ours.

In China, where the first cases were reported in December, the infection rate leveled off about 25 days after the first 100 cases were reported, according to data analysis by VisualCapitalist.com. China, as we know, enforced strict quarantines and travel bans.

South Korea, which has been praised for its quick rollout of testing, isolation of those infected and contract tracing of those patients, began to see the rate of new cases fall about 15 days into its response to COVID-19, according to the same data analysis.

While hard-hit Italy and Iran -- considered to be 10 days to two weeks ahead of the United States -- don’t appear to have hit their peaks, the rate of growth in those countries has slowed considerably.

In an article titled “Hold the Line” written for Elemental, a publication for health and wellness, Yale epidemiologist Jonathan Smith, urges patience.

“Even with these measures in place, we will see cases and deaths continue to rise globally, nationally, and in our own communities. This may lead some to think that the social distancing measures are not working. They are. They may feel futile. They aren’t,” Smith wrote. “The enemy we are facing is very good at what it does; we are not failing. We need everyone to hold the line as the epidemic inevitably gets worse. This is not an opinion. This is the unforgiving math of epidemics for which I and my colleagues have dedicated our lives to understanding with great nuance, and this disease is no exception. Stay strong and in solidarity knowing that what you are doing is saving lives, even as people continue getting sick and dying. You may feel like giving in. Don’t.”

Smith made a strong second point in his article: don’t cheat.

“You should perceive your entire family to function as a single individual unit: if one person puts themselves at risk, everyone in the unit is at risk,” Smith added.

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