Giving Compass' Take:

• According to recent studies, social distance is stabilizing the spread of COVID-19 infection rates, but more research is necessary to identify practices on what can contract the virus. 

• How can this research inform policies and guidelines for responding to COVID-19? 

• Learn more about how social distancing is helping slow the spread of coronavirus. 

The good news: In all but three states, social distancing reduced the rate at which confirmed cases were doubling. Across all states, the average doubling rate decreased sharply from 3.31 days to about 100 days.

The bad news: the measures have not been enough to significantly reduce the number of daily new cases. Though that number has plateaued, the disease is still spreading, albeit more slowly, but not actually contracting.

“The effect is not as large as one would have hoped for going in,” says lead author Aaron Wagner, professor of electrical and computer engineering at Cornell University. As a result, he says, the states now reopening businesses and relaxing restrictions “do not have much headroom” for error. “You’re right on the edge of it starting to blow up again.”

“Policymakers need to be aware of this,” says coauthor Elaine Hill, assistant professor of public health sciences at the University of Rochester. “We need more studies to identify the practices that can move us to a place where COVID-19 is actually contracting.”

For the study, researchers used the New York Times Github repository of COVID-19 data to gather, state by state, numbers of confirmed cases between March 15 and April 25. Restaurant and K-12 school closures marked the imposition of social distancing measures, and the researchers used data from the Centers for Disease Control to establish 12 days as the average time from a person being infected to having a confirmed test.

Part of the challenge in deciding how to move forward on the research is that various states, out of necessity, “imposed a whole basket of measures all at once,” Wagner says. So, it is hard to statistically “disentangle” which kinds of social distancing have been most effective–closing schools versus closing restaurants, for example—and which have been less so and should be the first to be relaxed, Hill adds.

Read the full article about the impact of social distancing by Bob Marcotte at Futurity.