It is really quite simple. You isolate the people who are infectious from those who are not infected. Or you could look at it the opposite way, keep the at-risk uninfected away from the infectious.
In a disease with obvious symptoms and a slow rate of spread, it isn’t that difficult to do. Epidemiologists have been doing this since John Snow stopped a cholera epidemic in its tracks in London in 1854. The man invented almost every epidemiological technique in use today.
With something like coronavirus, where symptoms are usually minimal to none, the usual tool of contact tracing to identify who is potentially ill does not work. There is no vector to be exterminated. There is no source of contamination to close down. We are left with only one tool to slow the spread of infection, social distancing.
Slowing the spread is important. It reduces the load on the medical system at any given time. It keeps the overall population healthier at any given time. Over time we refine our techniques and improve medical care and latter infection will benefit from this. Slow it down enough and a vaccine can be developed before the virus burns out naturally.
This isn’t our first rodeo. We are not starting from scratch. We are not strangers to other coronaviruses nor to the cytokine storm they can cause. MERS and SARS are also coronaviruses. This is just the latest mutation. And it is nothing like AIDS nor Ebola.
This is a great Washington Post article on social distancing, complete with neat simulations you can run. It explains how and why in effective visual terms. There are other COVID-19 articles that are extremely well done. Bravo for them!
Attempted mass quarantine did NOT work in China. There was a small moderation of the epidemic but once enough people had it and survived, regional isolation and herd immunity is really what snuffed the epidemic out. It is not a viable national policy if you care at all about how many die in the process.
There are great costs to social distancing. Lost wages, lost production, lost consumption,
the economy grinds to a halt. When that happens it may not start up again. Someone still has to keep emergency services and hospitals running. Someone still has to produce and process and ship and distribute food and medicine and fuel and energy and keep the utilities running. You are still going to have to collect those supplies. Amazon may not be delivering.
Someone needs to support those people with parts and supplies and equipment and it radiates out from there. Then there are the epidemiologists and medical researchers. The military is not shutting down nor the post office nor any other government department.
A nation is a vast web of interrelated activities and you can only pluck so many strands before it falls apart and cannot easily be reconstructed. Then people start to starve and there are food riots. An extreme level of social distancing is national suicide.
In the cold calculations of government lives lost gets balanced against economic loss and while your loved ones are infinitely valuable to you, lives are not of infinite value in government calculations. Sacrifices for the “greater good” are made. Rather than shut the nation down, it is left up to the people to distance our vulnerable folks from the infection while those at least risk must keep the show rolling.
As heartless as this sounds, that is probably how it should be. The federal government can tell you how to protect yourself over and over again. It can set up financial aid for people in distress, fund the research into treatments and vaccines and keep emergency services running. They could shut down most public transport at a great cost. Only state and local governments can order local public events shut down and that power has its limits. Travel bans are not going to work at this stage, nor quarantine. Infection is in every state of the Union and most nations on the planet. Global awareness came too late.
What we shoulda, woulda, coulda, done is spilt milk. Don’t cry over it. Now is not the time for political gaming and blaming. Save it for the election.
Avoid leaving home if you can but go to work if you must. If you do go to work, take all precautions as noted in my previous post. Keep your distance, wear protective gear, wash your hands often, focus on not touching your face, wipe down surfaces before you touch them. Drive away people who are obviously ill with polearms and torches. (Just kidding. But be stern with them.) Same thing if you act socially.
Do that and you will be ok. Healthy young people have as little to fear from it as they would the flu. We have lived with the flu for as far back as anyone knows. Most of that was without vaccinations.
It is us older farts and those with significant medical issues who need to stay at home and double down on the precautions.