When, and How, Can We Safely Relax Coronavirus Lockdown Measures?

While the U.S. struggles to control the COVID-19 outbreak and public health experts urge government officials to uphold social-distancing measures, global epidemiology modelers and leaders from the World Health Organization (WHO), amongst others, are considering what a return to normalcy might look like, and when it could start to occur.

“You can’t stop the economy forever,” Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D-NY) said in a news conference on March 23. “So we have to start to think about, does everyone stay out of work? Should young people go back to work sooner? Can we test for those who had the virus, resolved, and are now immune and can they start to go back to work?”

Ideally, compliance with lockdown measures will “flatten the curve” and allow governments to “enable the more precise and targeted measures that are needed to stop transmission and save lives,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, PhD. Singapore and South Korea used aggressive case finding, contact tracing, community surveillance, isolation of cases, and quarantining of contacts to avoid shutting down to the extent seen in the U.S. and much of Europe. An approach like Singapore’s would require more widespread testing and low enough case numbers based on hospital capacity.

An analysis by Andrew Tatem, PhD, and colleagues at England’s University of Southampton found that these measures were more effective than travel bans, lockdowns, and school closings at preventing the spread of the virus in China, Hong Kong, South Korea, and Singapore.

Researchers in Israel are exploring the use of a smartphone-based questionnaire to identify and predict virus hot zones based on increases in reported COVID-19 symptoms in places where known patients have been. “When we eventually release the population from lockdown, such a tool can be critical in management of the spread of the virus, as it may ahead of time inform us of regions where the outbreak is re-emerging,” Eran Segal, PhD, from the Weizmann Institute of Science near Tel Aviv told STAT. Such a tool would take weeks or months to develop and implement in the U.S., but might help control a second outbreak of the virus.

Sources: STAT, March 25, 2020; Lai S, Ruktanonchai N, Zhou L, et al. Effect of non-pharmaceutical interventions for containing the COVID-19 outbreak. World Pop. 2020 March 4.

ASH Clinical News strives to bring you the latest relevant news during the COVID-19 pandemic, but recognizes that facts are changing quickly. The information in these articles is current as of the time of the source publication date.