US states stopped their pandemic social restrictions too soon

A masked man and woman walks outside a plastic barrier.

Enlarge / If you can’t
socially distance, a face mask helps. (credit:
Christopher Furlong / Getty Images

Many countries that controlled their COVID-19 cases in the
spring are now seeing rises in infections, raising the prospect
that they’ll face a second wave of cases, as many epidemiological
models had predicted. But in the United States, the number of cases
has never dropped to low levels. Instead, it varied between high
levels of infection and very high peaks in cases. Why is everything
so different in the states?

While there are plenty of possible reasons, a series of new
studies essentially blame all the obvious ones: the United States
ended social distancing rules too soon, never built up sufficient
testing and contact-tracing capabilities, and hasn’t adopted habits
like mask use that might help substitute for its failures
elsewhere. The fact that some of these studies used very different
methods to arrive at similar conclusions suggests that those
conclusions are likely to hold up as more studies come in.

Too soon

One of the studies, performed by a US-South African team, looked
at the
relaxation of social distancing rules
in the US. Its authors
created a list of restrictions for each state and the District of
Columbia and tracked the number of COVID-19 deaths in each state
for eight weeks prior to the rules being terminated. The number of
deaths was used as a proxy for the total number of cases, as the
erratic availability of tests made the true infection rate
difficult to determine.

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Source: FS – All – Science – News
US states stopped their pandemic social restrictions too