Lockdown delays cost at least 36,000 lives, data show

New estimates from researchers at Columbia University suggest that had the United States started imposing COVID-19 social distancing measures 1 week earlier, some 36,000 lives could have been saved.

New estimates from researchers at Columbia University suggest that had the United States started imposing COVID-19 social distancing measures 1 week earlier, some 36,000 lives could have been saved. According to their models, if the United States had started locking down cities and limiting social contact 2 weeks earlier, on March 1, about 83% of the nation's coronavirus-related deaths could have been avoided. In that scenario, an estimated 54,000 fewer deaths would have been recorded by early May. "It's a big, big difference. That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths," said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia and head of the research team. The researchers based their findings on infectious disease modeling that measures how reduced contact between people starting in mid-March slowed transmission of the novel coronavirus. The team asked what would have happened if the lockdowns and social distancing measures had occurred 1-2 weeks earlier and estimated the spread of infections and deaths through May 3. Although the models are only estimates, Lauren Ancel Meyers, an epidemiologist at the University of Texas at Austin, who was not involved in the research, said that it "makes a compelling case that even slightly earlier action in New York could have been game changing." More than 21,000 people in the New York metro area alone had died from COVID-19 by May 3.