May 13, 2020
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As the United States approach its 2-month mark ever since social distancing became a controversial nationwide decision, the country has approached a new crossroad on how to open its doors while still lowering the virus’ transmission. According to the CDC, limiting face to face interaction is still the best way to reduce the spread of the Coronavirus. With over 1,300,000 cases and nearing 80,000 deaths nationwide, how badly do we need social distancing to survive? Is it starting to become a thing of the past as we open the country’s doors?
Based on research, transmission of the Coronavirus is mostly through contact and respiratory droplets. Although limiting contact is still the most effective way, in cases where in social distancing cannot be maintained such as in groceries or pharmacies, face masks are considered essential. Current CDC recommendations state that everybody should wear cloth face masks as protection. Not only to protect the individual wearing the mask but also to protect other people just in case of an asymptomatic infection. It’s been shown that 50% of people with COVID-19 may not display symptoms but are still able to fully transmit the virus. Unlike SARS-CoV-1 or Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome 1 which was transmissible once symptoms are evident, COVID-19 is the opposite. This is where social distancing, face masks and other non-pharmaceutical interventions play a huge role in flattening out the curve.
Back in 1918, social distancing was the number one public health intervention that was able to reduce cases of the Spanish flu—the deadliest pandemic known to mankind. A 2007 study by Markel et. al focused on studying the non-Pharmaceutical interventions utilized during the Spanish Flu. This study correlated a strong association between a decrease in cases and these interventions that includes social distancing, closing of schools and companies, prohibiting public gatherings and quarantine precautions on those who were ill. It was also found that secondary spikes in deaths and new cases occurred after states started to loosen these public health interventions. This study further strengthens the need to include these interventions as companion measures while an effective vaccine is available.
Another important effect of social distancing and face mask utilization is the lessening of the strain on the health care systems. By reducing the overall attack rate, number of deaths, and slowing down of transmission, the strain on health care systems is alleviated. This will ensure delivery of appropriate quality care to affected patients. Also, this will allow more time for an effective and safe vaccine along with other medications to undergo testing without compromising its quality profile.
Researchers say that the best thing to do is to adapt the mentality of behaving like you already have the infection. Ultimately knowing that each human can make a difference during this global pandemic means that doing our best to keep ourselves and others safe become an act of selflessness. Despite states opening one by one, people must remember that the fight against an invisible enemy is far from over. At the absence of a vaccine to completely eradicate infection, public health interventions such as social distancing, proper handwashing, and wearing of face masks can certainly make a difference- by saving your own life and others.
Paula Lim is a licensed physician from the Philippines and currently based in California to pursue further studies. Research and content writing have always fascinated her and continues to pursue this on top of her medical career.
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