Coronavirus: Shelter in place for another 5 months? Here's what Stanford researchers are projecting and why

SANTA CLARA COUNTY, Calif. (KGO) -- As the Bay Area heads into another weekend of sheltering-in-place due to the novel coronavirus pandemic, many folks are asking how much longer will it take before restrictions are lifted. That's one of the questions that a Stanford research team set out to answer by developing an interactive tool that models the spread of COVID-19 over time with interventions such as quarantine and social distancing.

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"We estimate that shelter-in-place would have to remain in place for about five months or more in order to actually completely suppress the epidemic," said Stanford biology professor Erin Mordecai.

While it's not likely for a shelter-in-place order to remain in effect for that long, Mordecai says we're beginning to see some of the positive effects of social distancing in Santa Clara County, based on data from the global MIDAS network. However, lifting interventions too early could lead to a second outbreak. With that said, strategies such as more widespread testing could lead to better contact tracing.

"That would allow us to concentrate the intervention on just the people that are infectious at any given time, and allow other people to maybe not fully go about their normal lives, but at least be able to get a little more social contact and get back out into the world a little more," said Mordecai.

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At a press briefing earlier this week, ABC7 News asked Santa Clara County Health Officer Sara Cody about what it would take to reduce the severity of the shelter-in-place order.

"What we need to see is that our demand curve, which is how many people are ill, requiring hospitalization and ICU care, comes to a place where it's comfortably nestled under our supply curve... the supply of beds, ICUs, necessary staff, necessary equipment to care for them in the way they need to be cared for," said Cody.

To avoid a resurgence of COVID-19, communities will need to apply multiple interventions over the next year until effective treatments or vaccines are widely available. But just think of it as a light-switch: turning interventions on and off can help keep the virus at levels our healthcare system can manage.

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"We could then allow some form of public life... may allow some businesses to temporarily re-open," said Mordecai.

Knowledge is power, and the work that researchers and health officials are doing equips us with information we can all use to help reduce the spread of the novel coronavirus.

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