How Long Will We Need to Practice Social Distancing?
The coronavirus casualties in the United States are now higher than any other country in the world. Hospitalizations and death tolls are increasing exponentially with each passing day, and 95% of Americans, at least 316 million people, have been ordered to stay at home. These residents are only permitted to leave home for essential tasks or if they are considered essential workers.
It is uncertain when the coronavirus will be contained. Federal and state officials are increasingly at odds about how to handle the pandemic. There is currently no approved vaccine, although many medical facilities are working tirelessly towards creating one. There is also no safe and effective drug available to eliminate the infection once the virus has been contracted.
For both federal and state plans, the projected date to end the lockdown is constantly changing as new information becomes available.
For now, we can all do our part to self-isolate and social distance to curb transmission and flatten the curve. The following are commonly asked questions about social distancing and some estimates of when the lockdown will be lifted.
What Is Social Distancing?
Social distancing is a strategy to decrease the transmission of a virus by avoiding unnecessary social interactions. When a necessary task such as grocery shopping must be performed, you should keep 6 feet of distance between yourself and other people.
High-risk populations such as older people and people with compromised immune systems need to be particularly vigilant, but everyone should practice social distancing. Asymptomatic people and people with milder cases can still spread the virus. Silent transmission, or transmission by an asymptomatic person, is estimated to occur in up to 10% of cases. 1-3% of people who contract the virus will remain asymptomatic.
Why Is Social Distancing Important?
Social distancing has proven to be a successful practice in decreasing transmission. In the early stages of an outbreak, each person infected with coronavirus is thought to pass the virus to an average of 2-3 other people. Within one month, a single case can lead to 244 cases. Within two months, 59,604 cases. Without implementing any changes in our behaviors, the United States could expect 2.2 million deaths from coronavirus.
In areas of China where social distancing and strict quarantines were implemented, transmission decreased by over 50%. The earlier these measures are put into place, the more effective they are in flattening the curve. By decreasing spikes in transmission and spreading out cases of the virus, healthcare is more accessible to those who need it. More lives are saved by healthcare workers as a result of social distancing.
How Long Will We Need to Practice Social Distancing?Various organizations have attempted to predict how long we will need to practice social distancing. Most studies conclude that we will need to distance for many months if not years, with an average projection of 12-18 months. A computer modelling study from Harvard University warns that social distancing may need to be practiced into 2022 if other interventions are not put into place.
The interventions that would decrease the timeline for social distancing include a vaccine, drug therapies, widespread testing, increased hospital capacity and quarantines. Widespread testing may be helpful in understanding who has been infected already but may not have any bearing on someone’s ability to be reinfected. The need for tests is estimated to be a bare minimum of 750,000 but up to 3.8 million per week. This puts the need for tests at 150 times our current capacity. A vaccine is estimated to be at least 12 to 18 months away.
It is also possible that there will be stop-start approaches to social distancing by easing measures for periods of time before social distancing measures are reimplemented. Without stretching capacity, healthcare workers will then be able to provide treatment to the most urgent patients and decrease the virus’s death toll.
To have a more concrete idea of how long we will need to practice social distancing, several questions must be answered by scientists and healthcare professionals. Do infected people gain any immunity? Do seasons change the spread of the virus?
What Can I Expect When Returning to Work or School?
More than 50% of Americans under the age of 45 reported they had lost their job or lost work hours as a result of the pandemic. If you are able to work remotely during this pandemic, consider yourself privileged compared to the majority of the workforce. Only 29% of Americans have occupations that can be performed remotely. Many United States schools have been closed at least until the end of this school year.
The return to work will likely come in waves, based on the need for certain sectors. The CDC has released guidelines for businesses to follow as their workers return to the office. Make sure to research the most up-to-date protocol and follow the guidelines of your governor throughout the pandemic.
If we are instructed to return to work or school, you can take preventative measures to avoid contracting coronavirus, these include:
- Wearing a cloth face mask in public over your nose and mouth
- Stop handshaking and implement other non-contact methods of greeting
- Keeping your workplace well ventilated and keeping windows open when possible
- Regular handwashing with soap and water for at least 20 seconds
- Using hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol to clean hands if soap and water are not available
- Covering your mouth and nose with tissues when coughing and sneezing
- Throwing away used tissues in a lined trash can
- Avoiding touching eyes, nose, or mouth with unclean hands
- Staying 6 feet away from other people
- Avoiding sharing any dishes or utensils with others
- Wiping down commonly shared areas such as bathrooms or break rooms
You may be exposed to the virus if you are within six feet of an infected person, or through inhaling the respiratory droplets that are produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. You may contract the illness through shared surfaces if you touch an orifice of your body such as your eye, nose, or mouth after touching an infected surface. If you have a sick family member you should inform your supervisor and you should stay home. If you are sick, you should stay at home.
The median time to recover from milder cases of coronavirus is 2 weeks, while more serious cases are 3-6 weeks in duration. If your case is milder, you may be able to stay at home and isolate until you recover. For more severe cases, you should seek medical help. Emergency warning signs for coronavirus include but are not limited to: trouble breathing, persistent pain or pressure in chest, confusion or inability to arouse and bluish lips or face.
How Will Standard Health Insurance Cover Coronavirus if I Am Infected?
If you buy a health insurance policy you will have some coverage for coronavirus treatment. The coronavirus is being treated by most health insurance companies like any other virus. However, consumers will still be financially responsible for some of their coronavirus treatment costs, including copays and deductibles.
Many health insurance companies are waiving the charges for coronavirus tests. If you are hospitalized or quarantined at a medical facility, your insurance should cover it like any other inpatient stay. Experimental or alternative treatments will likely not be covered by your health insurance.
If you self-quarantine at your home, your plan should cover the medical care you receive at your home from a licensed medical professional. Your health insurance plan will not pay for lost income while you are away from work.
If you are already enrolled in a health insurance plan, check ahead of time with your health insurance company to find out what coronavirus-related expenses you may be responsible for. If you are suddenly not insured or if you’re pregnant, you can enroll in a health plan outside the open enrollment period.
If you already have coverage through the marketplace, you can report your income change and apply for an increased subsidy. Also, regardless of circumstances, many states have opened up the health insurance market, so you may be able to buy health insurance now.
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