Coronavirus social distancing, ‘stay home’ measures will take weeks to show results

A notice on the door of Rep. Veronica Escobar, D-Texas, explains that it is closed to in-person visits on Wednesday, March 18, 2020, in El Paso, Texas. Inside, Escobar answered questions from constituents during in a virtual town hall about the coronavirus. (AP Photo/Cedar Attanasio) (Cedar Attanasio, Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved)

Cases are continuing to rise in Michigan and in states around the U.S., but that doesn’t mean distancing measures aren’t working.

The fact is, we won’t know if they’re working for weeks.

On Monday, Michigan ordered a “stay-at-home” policy that will last at least three weeks. Cases in the state have totaled more than 1,200, as of Monday, which is 13 days from the first confirmed cases in the state.

Cases in the state will continue to rise, as expected, due to an increase in testing capabilities and general awareness of COVID-19.

The positive tests we’re seeing right now were most likely contracted before serious distancing measures were put in place. It’s only been one week since Michigan shut down dine-in restaurants, bars, gyms and coffee houses.

Many COVID-19 patients don’t show symptoms for several days.

The measures put in place, including Michigan’s stay-at-home order, are meant to decrease the growth of cases so the health care system isn’t overloaded. This is called “flattening the curve.

But it could be multiple weeks before governments can definitively know if distancing measures are working or not.

“Taking aggressive action to protect our communities is the most important thing we can do to mitigate further spread of COVID-19,” said Michigan Department of Health and Human Services Chief Deputy for Health and Chief Medical Executive Dr. Joneigh Khaldun. “If we do this now, we can make sure our hospitals and healthcare workers are prepared to take care of the sickest people. It is crucial that people do the right thing by staying home and staying safe.”

Why can’t we just isolate patients?

We get this question a lot -- why are we shutting everything down? Why can’t we just quarantine patients or places they’ve been in contact with?

It’s because we don’t know where or who these patients are due the lack of testing in the U.S.

“Had we been more on top of testing, maybe we wouldn’t have had to be quite so extreme,” Celine Gounder, an epidemiologist at New York University, told VOX. “Because we still have a [testing] shortage, we still have to have some way of dividing people who are infectious from people who are susceptible. Right now, in the absence of testing, you really have to do the social-distancing thing to the extreme.”

If the U.S. can ramp up testing, states will be able to identify hot spots and take a more targeted containment approach.

“We know that there likely are unrecognized hotspots, that there are people transmitting with mild infections,” Amesh Adalja, a senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, told VOX. “But we don’t know, technically, where they are. We don’t know how many cases we have. We know the number of confirmed cases is an underestimate, but we don’t know how much of an underestimate it is.”

Worldwide, more than 350,000 people have been infected and 15,000 have died from the virus. As cases in China ebbed, the dangers to Europe and the U.S. have grown exponentially, although Germany on Monday cautiously reported some flattening of its infection curve.

After just a few weeks, the U.S. has more than 35,000 cases and more than 400 deaths.

For most people, the new coronavirus causes only mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever or coughing. But for some older adults and people with existing health problems, it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia. Over 100,000 people have recovered, mostly in China.

About the Author:

Ken Haddad is the digital content and audience manager for WDIV / He also authors the Morning Report Newsletter and various other newsletters. He's been with WDIV since 2013. He enjoys suffering through Lions games on Sundays in the fall.