The SXSW (South-Southwest) conference is an annual event in Austin, Texas, but organizers announced the event a week before the event began amid concerns about the new corona outbreak,media reported. The Swiss government has banned gatherings of more than 1,000 people and cancelled the 2020 Geneva Motor Show. In addition, the Emerald City Comic Con, scheduled for next weekend in Seattle, has been postponed. In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio asked people to try to work from home and avoid crowded subway cars.
In places where a large number of the virus has not yet been detected, it seems too late to cancel activities and encourage people to stay away from crowded places. However, evidence from past outbreaks suggests that policies that keep people at a distance are effective measures to prevent outbreaks. For example, during the 1918 flu pandemic, the number of deaths was low in cities that closed churches and schools earlier. Cities like St. Louis, which close cinemas and cancel sporting events with only a handful of people infected with the flu, can cut the spread of the disease by about half. Philadelphia’s decision to hold a march in the early days of the outbreak led to a surge in cases.
Early isolation policies are in place early in the epidemic to prevent a sudden increase in the number of patients, which can overwhelm hospitals and health care systems. A flat curve means that there aren’t many people who are sick at once, so they can be cared for and discharged from the hospital. The outbreak may last longer, but the impact will not be so severe.
Although it may be earlier, there is no consensus on the best time to implement social segregation policies. They can be socially and economically burdensome, and it is emotionally difficult for people to see the disruption of the daily life around them. Sealing the city could lead to a decline in the number of new cases, but at a huge psychological cost.
In the U.S., recommendations range from cancellations to requiring older people or people with poor health to travel less, and infection with the new coronavirus is more likely to cause severe symptoms in these groups. In addition, some school districts were closed, and some universities began to switch to Internet classes. Many companies require employees to work from home.
But in the United States, implementing public health policies can be particularly challenging. Many people do not have paid sick leave and may still need to continue working or travel on crowded public transport if they feel unwell. Closing schools may seem like an easy way to stop the spread of the disease, but high childcare costs may mean more harm than good. If parents can’t get home from work, they may leave their children in community centers, as they did during the H1N1 epidemic in Seattle. New York City, for example, is reluctant to close all schools because of the COVID-19 outbreak because they are the only place many children can eat hot meals every day. However, the application of isolation measures to the extent permitted by the system is the best defense against the spread of new coronaviruses, especially in the absence of vaccines or treatments available.