Areas of the United States that did not practice proper social distancing had rates of coronavirus infection that were 35 times higher when compared to areas that put restrictions in place to slow the spread, a new study shows.
The study, which was published this week in the health care journal Health Affairs, showed that putting social distancing guidelines in place early made a significant difference in cutting down on the number of infections. While nearly every state put in place some level of restrictions, the paper noted that not all were strictly enforced.
The research found that social distancing policies lasting between 16 and 20 days reduced infection rates by 9 percent. The gap between places with strict protocols and those that were not well-enforced grew larger over time starting from March 1, the study found.
"Holding the amount of voluntary social distancing constant, these results imply 10 times greater spread by April 27 without [shelter-in-place orders]... and more than 35 times greater spread without any of the four measures," the report noted.
States have implemented a number of social distancing measures, including closing non-essential businesses, banning public gatherings, and closing down communal spaces like public parks.
The study cautioned to use nuance when interpreting the results, stressing that there could be a high level of uncertainty when creating simulations with estimated parameters. It was explained that this was meant to be a simulation of the power of exponential growth and the effectiveness of social distancing restrictions, even when that effect may be difficult to see at first.
According to the paper, the total number of cases on April 6 would have still been under 1 million -- just 2.4 times the actual number of cases -- even without restrictions.
"The explosion in cases without social distancing measures happens later, and by time it is happening, the lagged effects of these measures mean it is too late to stop it," the study's abstract stated.The research appeared to bolster another recent report finding that personal precautions can help significantly slow the spread of the virus. An early copy of the yet-to-be-released report obtained by Vanity Fair showed that the number of coronavirus cases in the United States would plummet if 80 percent of people wore facial coverings in public.
The study, conducted by the University of California at Berkeley's International Computer Science Institute along with the Hong Kong University of Science and Technology, appeared to back recent guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention saying that Americans should wear masks whenever they go out in public.