Social distancing is the most important tool we have in slowing COVID-19 transmission, saving lives and saving resources, according to a University of Mississippi Medical Center emergency physician.
“The key is to minimize person-to-person transmission, especially among people who do not normally interact with each other,” said Dr. Richard Finley, professor of emergency medicine at UMMC, who has studied models of the factors influencing the course of pandemic illness.
“With several forecast models predicting that Mississippi will see a wave of infections peaking in the last two weeks of April and early May, the importance of social distancing now cannot be overstated,” said Dr. Charles O’Mara, UMMC associate vice chancellor for clinical affairs.
COVID-19 is a viral illness spread mainly by coughs and sneezes producing viral-laden air droplets that are inhaled or land on surfaces we touch and then convey to ourselves. Avoiding viral droplets in the air by social distancing, combined with frequent hand washing to prevent surface contact exposure, provides our best defense now against contracting the disease.
Social distancing currently means avoiding groups of more than 10 people and keeping a distance of six feet between individuals.
There is evidence that COVID-19 can be transmitted in the absence of symptoms, making it critical for people to stay home whenever possible and to keep their distance from others during unavoidable outings. Wherever large crowds congregate, they create a dangerous situation.
“With frequent transmission between people, you will have a rapidly accumulating number of cases that appears as a sharp peak or spike in the number of infections,” said Finley, who also has a faculty appointment in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases. This high peak can overwhelm hospitals, health departments and other organizations responding to the pandemic and providing care that minimizes the death toll.
This is why doctors and scientists say we must “flatten the curve” to prevent the spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths. If the worst-case scenario peak looks like the Matterhorn, then the flattened curve is a rolling Appalachian plateau, with fewer deaths and infections over time.
The current COVID-19 crisis won’t last forever, but in the meantime, governments and social networks need to keep the pressure on to maintain social distancing, Finley said.
“If you stop social distancing measures too early, you could see a rebound in the number of cases, and that risks overwhelming the health care system again,” he said.
— University of Mississippi Medical Center