Has social distancing actually worked to slow the spread of the coronavirus?

  • Social distancing keeps space between people from separate households
  • Canceling large events kept people from traveling long distances 
  • Closing bars and restaurants have also made a noticeable impact

One of the most common methods of combating the spread of coronavirus has been social distancing, the practice of putting a space of at least six feet between yourself and others. While it has proven effective in creating a plateau in the coronavirus infection rate, there are different methods of social distancing which are more effective than others. 

A recent study of social distancing practices in the U.S. has shown that between school closures and orders to shelter in place, the latter has proven most effective at curbing the spread of coronavirus. 

Accounting for any imprecision in the models used by researchers, the closure of bars and restaurants as well as shelter-in-place orders have produced a statistically significant effect on coronavirus infections. By keeping people home and decreasing the number of shared spaces that require close confines like bars and restaurant dining rooms, the virus, as noted by Vox, hasn’t had a chance to spread to as many people as it would have without these measures in place.

Using geolocation data from peoples’ cell phones, researchers at The University of Texas at Austin have determined that more people are following stay-at-home orders and avoiding places where they may come into contact with other people. This data is also being used to predict mortality rates for specific areas, based on how people are moving between their homes and other locations. 

Generally, without social distancing, the coronavirus infection rate was projected to reach more than 10 million in the U.S. by this point. With social distancing measures, the observed number of cases nationwide, as of May 26, is at about the 1.66 million mark

Sources: Vox, CDC, WBUR, CDC Case Count

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