An April study at Harvard University’s T.H., Chan’s School of Public Health, advocated intermittent social distance – measures that are periodically re-enforced when cases reach certain levels.
Christine Tedijanto, a doctoral student who co-authored the study, told Global News that it would take at least two more years to reach “sufficient levels of population immunity for the disease to stop spreading” .
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According to the researchers’ modeling, as long as social distancing occurs between 25% and 75% of the time, the world could both strengthen immunity and prevent the healthcare system from overloading.
“If we believe that COVID-19 will confer at least some immunity to infection, for a certain period of time, it means that those who have already contracted the infection are protected,” she said, noting that the exact level of immunity remains below research.
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“Second, we are also slowing this spread down enough so that everyone with a serious illness can be properly cared for by the health care system.”
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Dr. Todd Coleman, epidemiologist and assistant professor of health sciences at Wilfrid Laurier University, called the phased approach to social distancing a “gamble” at best.
He said Harvard’s modeling assumes that immunity is maintained for long periods of time, but the science behind it remains unclear.
Instead of flattening or extending the COVID-19 curve, intermittent social distancing would see the virus continue with ups, downs and spikes. People would develop antibodies, said Coleman, but added: “We don’t know if these antibodies protect against reinfection.”
There is also a compromise that comes with collective immunity.
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“If we try to maximize infections to allow collective immunity, it also means that the likelihood of people dying quickly is also higher,” he said.
“We’ve seen it circulating in a number of scenarios where the elderly or [long-term] care ends up dying. “
Periodic surges could also overload the healthcare system, he added.
Colin Furness, infection control epidemiologist and assistant professor at the University of Toronto, said intermittent social distancing is an attractive option, but one that “assumes you’ve closed the door” to completely eliminate community spread.
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According to him, opting for intermittent social distancing is “largely a philosophical decision on how you prioritize health and wealth”.
Furness added that he would not support the distancing strategy, adding that a “much better” approach is to try to eliminate community spread, which would minimize the number of infections and deaths in each country. .
“When we in Canada say we want to have social distance and get rid of this infection, what we are really saying is that health comes first. We must make this virus go away and we are ready to throw a lot of wealth under the bus in order to protect the health of the population, “said Furness.
“The idea behind intermittent social distancing is to reverse that and say that in fact, we cannot allow health to hurt wealth. “
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