Thursday, March 19, 2020

Keeping the Curve Flat

Much of the Bay Area, including Berkeley, is under "shelter-in-place" guidelines at least through early April. It's basically semi-compulsory social distancing: we're not locked in our houses, but we're only supposed to leave for grocery shopping, medical services, or to go on a walk (six feet distant from any fellow pedestrians).

The goal of all this is to "flatten the curve" of new coronavirus infections. It won't stop new infections, but it will spread them out so the medical system isn't overwhelmed.

I'm supremely lucky in that shelter-in-place isn't a huge burden on me -- I work from home anyway, and I'm enough of an introvert that I frankly don't leave the apartment as often as I should even under the best of circumstances. But society-wide this sort of living arrangement will be tough to maintain over a long period of time. Yet I don't have a clear sense of what sorts of conditions would signify it's safe to lift the guidelines and let public events (anything from sports to school) proceed again. Even if the guidelines work to flatten the curve, wouldn't it get pointy again the moment people started congregating in masses again?

Put differently: shelter-in-place and social distancing rules are a holding pattern. But it's not clear to me at least what we're holding for. Anybody have an answer to that?


Erl said...

Yes. Optimistic take: we're holding in place to spin up testing & tracking capacity. In Korea, etc., with widespread testing and low overall caseloads, it's possible to manage the virus while supporting normal life for the general public. Once we can test huge numbers of Americans and have driven the caseload down, it should be possible to shift back into a "watchful waiting" stance. The key statistic here will be fraction of active coronavirus cases with understood infection paths. Once that number is in the 70-80%s, we can relax most social distancing, quarantine exposed individuals, and keep the death toll down.

miacane said...

We're doing a lot of work on COVID-19. Just put out a short paper on it.