Coronavirus: How long will we face shutdowns?

A public health study guiding the nation’s extreme social distancing measures says that school closures and other shutdowns may be needed until an effective vaccine is available several months from now.

In press daily press conferences Ohio Department of Health Director Dr. Amy Acton has pointed to a study from Imperial College in the United Kingdom, which describes public health measures used in the 1918 influenza pandemic and being used now.

“Non-pharmaceutical interventions” – promoting hand washing and respiratory etiquette, closing schools and social venues, mandating social distancing, home quarantine of suspected cases – are the best ways to slow transmission, public health officials say. Layering multiple interventions is more effective than relying on just one or two, the study says.

The Imperial College study estimates that the interventions could reduce peak health care demand by two-thirds and reduce overall deaths by half. But to be effective, the interventions “will need to be maintained until a vaccine becomes available – potentially 18 months or more – given that we predict that transmission will quickly rebound if interventions are relaxed,” the study said.

When asked how long Ohio may face closures, Dr. Acton didn’t give a specific timetable.

“We need to realize that this is a long haul but I think we need to take as it comes because so much will evolve. If some of these drugs that we’re testing make a difference, that will be a new tool in our tool chest,” Dr. Acton said at DeWine’s March 19 press conference. “You’re going to see us take the best science, which is the non-pharmacological interventions – those four things I mentioned, the early targeted layers interventions —…that’s what we’re deploying right now. But that will depend on so many different factors. The other thing, and you’re going to watch China go through this right now, how do you exit? How do you peel back those layers without creating a surge of infections? I beg we have a lot of ideas.”

Ohio law gives state and local health departments the authority to order quarantines and isolations – orders that may be enforced by a long list of authorities, including police.

Marc Lipsitch of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health said blood tests are being developed to determine who may be immune to coronavirus and able to return to work.

Dr. Amy Fairchild, dean of the Ohio State University College of Public Health, said more COVID19 testing capacity would help limit the time Americans spend under shelter-in-place orders because infections could be identified and isolated more quickly.

Dr. Fairchild said a COVID19 vaccine probably won’t be available until next year under the best case scenario.

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