New research published by Harvard researchers suggests that imposing a lockdown is not the solution to combat COVID-19. The research also adds that maintaining social distancing until 2022 will be required to prevent hospitals from being overwhelmed.
Scientists project virus future via computer simulation
In an analysis published on Tuesday in the journal Science, Harvard scientists modeled the future of the virus that causes COVID-19 based on the behavior of two previous human coronaviruses.
The scientists projected that after its initial outbreak, the virus would come back in “recurrent wintertime outbreaks.” Though it could be less severe when compared with the first wave, new outbreaks may still overwhelm hospitals.
“To avoid this, prolonged or intermittent social distancing may be necessary into 2022,” the researchers wrote.
The research estimates social distancing measures are needed to be in place between 25% to 75% of the time. This is due to the current critical care capacity of the US.
In a call with reporters, lead author Stephen Kissler said, “We found that one-time social distancing measures are likely to be insufficient to maintain the incidence of SARS-CoV-2 in limits of critical care capacity in the US. What seems to be necessary in the absence of other sorts of treatments are intermittent social distancing periods.”
On and off social distancing will be necessary
Widespread viral testing is essential for determining when thresholds to re-trigger distancing have crossed. Intensity and duration of lockdown could be relaxed when vaccines and treatments are available. However, in their absence, on and off distancing would provide hospitals sufficient time to increase critical care capacity. This will cater the surge in cases that would occur when the measures are eased.
“By permitting periods of transmission that reach higher prevalence than otherwise would be possible, they allow an accelerated acquisition of herd immunity,” said co-author Marc Lipsitch.
He added, “Even if the virus seems to disappear, widespread testing should continue since a resurgence in contagion could be possible as late as 2024. That testing will help officials time the distancing measures correctly and avoid overshooting critical care capacity.”
When the first wave of COVID-19 pandemic passes, the researchers strongly recommend that countries must focus on finding COVID-19 treatments. The countries should also expand the capacities of their critical care systems.
The authors did acknowledge that a major consequence within their model is how little they currently know about how strong immunity of previously infected individuals was and how long it lasts.
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