Cornell researchers say social distancing doesn’t completely stop COVID-19 from spreading

There aren’t really social distancing supporters, as much as there are those who correctly believe it’s our best shot at curbing COVID-19’s exponential growth curve. Whatever persuasion you fall under, you’ll likely agree that consumer curfews can’t get the job done all on their own. 

Although the novel coronavirus is primarily spread through travel clusters, complete suppression won’t be possible until essential workers take necessary precautions to remain uninfected and the public at large is kept up to date on all viable avenues of exposure.  

According to a new study from the University of Rochester and Cornell University, quarantine mandates dramatically reduced the spread of SARS-CoV-2 transmissions in the majority of regions within the U.S. 

States that employed additional countermeasures like wearing masks and increasing contact tracing enjoyed the largest transmission reductions. 

“Social distancing measures, with varying degrees of restriction, have been imposed around the world in order to stem the spread of COVID-19. In this work, we analyze the effect of current social distancing measures in the US. We quantify the reduction in doubling rate, by state, that is associated with social distancing,” the authors wrote in the new paper. “We find that social distancing is associated with a statistically-significant reduction in the doubling rate for all but three states. At the same time, we do not find significant evidence that social distancing has resulted in a reduction in the number of daily confirmed cases. Instead, social distancing has merely stabilized the spread of the disease.”

Mass immobility has wounded every American sector. Sadly, the COVID-19 pandemic arrived at the beginning of a two-man primary race, the middle of a mental health crisis, and the end of a schizophrenic winter. 

If all of the protective tools at our disposal go underutilized, all of this isolation will have been in vain. 

The new research revealed that coronavirus infections were doubling every three days before social distancing practices were initiated. When people eventually began to adhere to them by staying at home and managing a distance of at least six feet apart from others while in public, the rate slowed down even more doubling every 100 days.

At this juncture transmission rates plateaued and Americans began getting infected at a patterned rate to that of recovery; which means social distancing wasn’t enough. 

“Over nine hundred thousand Americans are confirmed to have contracted SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, as of April 25th, 2020. Efforts to stem the spread of the disease have resulted in unprecedented societal disruptions These efforts have largely taken the form of mandated or recommended social distancing measures by state and local governments,” the paper concluded.”These social distancing measures incur substantial economic cost [10, 11]. At the same time, their efficacy in reducing the spread of the disease is presumed but not well understood. Quantifying the benefits of social distancing measures is of paramount importance as policy makers consider how and when to relax such measures.”

All reasoned analysis suggests that the way out of this crisis will be won by a coordinated effort from three forces: Legislation, research and surveillance.

Orders need to be put in place to ensure that those who are desolately affected by COVID-19 remain indoors. With transmissions balanced, researchers can work toward developing antigens, immunogens, and supportive therapeutics for the critically ill.  Meanwhile, routine testing will allow experts to harvest the necessary biological material to facilitate the aforementioned process and survey high-risk scenarios.

A new independently conducted study from UC Berkeley’s International Computer Science Institute and The Hong Kong University of Science and Technology posits that if communities continue to wear masks while in public they can cut transmission rates by as much as 80%.

“I felt like this was pretty urgent,” said lead researcher, De Kai. “I saw the country where I grew up, where my family lives [now mostly in the Bay Area], about to face this pandemic without knowing much about something as simple as wearing a mask to protect themselves and others.”

Dr.Kai used models to assess the preemptive potential of masks. The data fell in line with data out of Japan,a country that never closed commercial markets but kept transmissions at play by routinely utilizing face coverings. 

“While all models have limitations and are only as good as their assumptions, this one is “a very thorough model and well done,” said William Schaffner, an infectious disease specialist at Vanderbilt University, who reviewed the paper in a media release. “It supports a notion that I advocate along with most other infectious disease experts: that masks are very, very important.” 

It’s to remember that SARS-CoV-2 virions are incredibly small, with an average diameter of 0.1 micrometers

If you do not have access to a proper medical mask, The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Wake Forest University experts recommend two layers of tightly woven 100% cotton fabric, a double layer of cotton with a thread count of at least 180, or a double layer of normal cotton with a layer of flannel in between. SARS-Cov-2 remains active on cotton for about 24 hours.

Be sure to read Ladders’ step by step tutorial on how to construct protective DIY masks. 

“Along with social distancing, to flatten the curve of infections as we wait for treatments and vaccines to be developed…If you get down to 30 or 40% [of people wearing masks], you get almost no [beneficial] effect at all,” says global economist, Guy-Philippe Goldstein. 

CW Headley is a reporter for the Ladders and can be reached at