Experts Say 90 Percent Of US Coronavirus Deaths Could Have Been Avoided By Starting Measures 2 Weeks Earlier

A makeshift hospital in New York City
EDUARDO MUNOZ ALVAREZ / Getty Images

There have been close to 35,000 deaths from the coronavirus in the United States, but a new analysis suggests that number could have been reduced by 90 percent if social distancing measures were put in place just two weeks earlier.

The new analysis comes from epidemiologists Britta L. Jewell and Nicholas P. Jewell, who wrote an op-ed published in The New York Times. In their piece, they said the majority of coronavirus cases and deaths could have been avoided if social distancing policies were put in place on March 2 rather than when President Donald Trump announced them on March 16. Even putting them in place one week sooner would have reduced deaths by 60 percent, the epidemiologists argued.

The report cited Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top expert in infectious diseases, who argued that putting measures in place to mitigate the spread of the virus earlier undoubtedly would have saved lives. But Fauci also noted that doing so earlier — at a time when there were relatively few deaths nationwide from the outbreak and hot spots in New York City and elsewhere had yet to emerge — would have generated much stronger pushback.

The New York Times op-ed noted there is no way to tell for sure just how many lives may have been saved, but it is clear that acting sooner would have been better.

“The absolute numbers are largely beside the point,” they wrote. “No model is a crystal ball, and there is far too much uncertainty in the trajectory of the U.S. epidemic to conclude that a certain prediction will be borne out. What matters more is the relative effect of moving earlier rather than later in trying to contain the spread. The relative effects of moving earlier necessarily depend on the assumed rate of growth, but the general conclusion is the same: Earlier is better.”

Many have criticized Donald Trump for what they see as his failure to act quickly to slow the spread of the coronavirus, noting that Trump spent weeks downplaying the severity of the outbreak and predicting it would end quickly. He has since taken a number of strict measures to combat it, including issuing nationwide guidelines to stay in place.

Trump and state leaders are now working on plans to reopen the American economy on a gradual basis, but public health experts warn that doing so too quickly would risk a second outbreak that could be just as severe as the one the country faced in February and March.