Researchers: 36,000 US lives could’ve been saved with earlier social distancing
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Researchers: 36,000 US lives could’ve been saved with earlier social distancing

Columbia University study finds 55% of COVID-19 deaths in America could have been averted if safety measures had been put in place a week earlier

US gravediggers carry the casket of someone presumed to have died from coronavirus as they are buried without any family present at Mount Richmond Cemetery in the Staten Island borough of New York, April 7, 2020. (AP Photo/David Goldman)
US gravediggers carry the casket of someone presumed to have died from coronavirus as they are buried without any family present at Mount Richmond Cemetery in the Staten Island borough of New York, April 7, 2020. (AP Photo/David Goldman)

NEW YORK — More than 35,000 lives would have been saved in the US if social distancing measures had begun just a week earlier than they actually did in mid-March, according to a new estimate by researchers at Columbia University.

They said simulations based on several models showed that 61 percent of the US cases of infection as of May 3 — more than 700,000 — and 55 percent of the more than 65,000 recorded deaths could have been averted if social distancing and other safety measures had been in place a week earlier.

These researchers said the simulations illustrate the danger of easing lockdown measures too early, as many experts have noted. All 50 US states have begun to reopen, to one extent or another and with encouragement from President Donald Trump, to try to resurrect economies devastated by business closures and layoffs in the pandemic.

“Efforts to further raise public awareness of the ongoing high transmissibility and explosive growth potential of COVID-19 are still needed at this critical time,” the researchers wrote.

“Our results also indicate that without sufficient broader testing and contact tracing capacity, the long lag between infection acquisition and case confirmation masks the rebound and exponential growth of COVID-19 until it is well underway,” they said.

US President Donald Trump listens during a meeting about the coronavirus response in the Oval Office of the White House, April 30, 2020. (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

Ten days ago, a New York documentary filmmaker named Eugene Jarecki set up a billboard in Times Square with what he calls the “Trump Death Clock.” It gives the number of deaths that Jarecki says could have been avoided if Trump had encouraged social distancing practices on March 9, rather than on March 16.

His figures are higher than those of the Columbia researchers because Jarecki argues that 60 percent of US deaths could have been averted by acting a week earlier.

The United States is the country hardest hit by the pandemic, with more than 1.5 million cases of infection and more than 93,000 deaths, according to a tally by Johns Hopkins University.

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