By Manoj Jain, MD MPH
How long will this last? That is the question people ask most frequently about the COVID-19 pandemic.
To answer this question, we need to understand the major factor which is fueling the pandemic. It is people. People connecting to people allows the virus to jump from person to person doubling every 6 days.
We can starve the virus by not allowing it access to our contacts. Imagine if some imposter wanted the list of names on our contact list – would you do it? Certainly not. What the coronavirus is doing is getting access to our body and getting to our contacts. To stop the pandemic we must stop this.
We do this simply by social distancing? This means staying home, not gathering in large crowds and not touching one another. We need to stay 6 feet away from others or wear a mask if we will be closer.
So how much social distancing do we need to do?
We can estimate the benefit given where we are in the epidemic now (about 10 patients are hospitalization with COVID-19 infection) in a population of 1.4 million people in the Greater Memphis area.
The epidemic curve based on the University of Pennsylvania model shows that if we did not do social distancing then we may have over 1,500 admissions to our hospitals per day with a census of nearly 10,000 at the peak. This would be over 5 times our present capacity.
However, this will not happen, because we are taking early action. So if we do 35% social distancing. Then the numbers look better. With the peak of daily admissions of 300 in 3 and half months and hospital census of 2,100. Given our overall bed capacity, this may consume most if not all the beds for the brief time.
To stop the epidemic in its track we do not need to do 100% social distancing – but just 65%. Because then the Ro, the reproductive rate of the epidemic, is below one and the epidemic dwindles not escalates. And the epidemic line flattens with no further hospitalizations.
It’s simple math if one person infected less than one person then in a week you do have some infections but it is less than the previous week.
But how do we measure social distancing? So we have creative minds at the University of Memphis working on methods to calculate the percent of social distancing happening in our city.
Again, if we can achieve the magic number of 65% social distancing over 2-4 weeks we can stall this epidemic. The local community, the business community, and young people need to know this and act now.
At this time no more than ever we need to work as a community. Even though you may be young and healthy – your actions and activity and practice of social distancing will impact the lives of hundreds and thousands of elders in our community.