Skip to content

This One Thing Cuts Your Coronavirus Risk in Half, Study Says

The hard work you’ve been doing is paying off. Don’t stop.
woman outdoor wearing medical face mask, social distancing, sitting on a bench, isolated from other people

For months, we've been wearing masks, working from home, limiting gatherings and taking care to stand six feet apart in the grocery line. It's understandable to wonder, Is any of this working? 

According to a new study from Johns Hopkins University, the answer is yes: Researchers have determined that social distancing and lockdowns have cut the spread of coronavirus by half in 82% of counties in the United States.

The Lockdowns Worked

Early in the pandemic, disease experts and local officials feared that the toll from COVID-19 could be catastrophic because infected people seemed able to transmit the virus for days while asymptomatic. In one well-publicized early case, an attorney in suburban Westchester County in New York infected more than 50 people he had casual contact with before showing symptoms.

The prospect of each of those 50 people infecting 50 more people, who could then each continue exponentially spreading the disease, led officials to begin lockdowns and social distancing recommendations in mid-March.

The Johns Hopkins results suggest those measures were successful. Scientists looked at the COVID-19 spread in 1,400 counties over two months. They found that 82% of those localities were able to reduce the transmission rate to less than one person per sick patient (the technical term R1).

The researchers split the counties into five different groups, each of which had similar socioeconomic characteristics. These ranged from dense urban populations with high household incomes to low-income, mainly rural areas.

Most counties began with a transmission rate of R3 (or three infections per sick person). In the urban areas, which were heavily reliant on public transportation, infection rates decreased slowly, while rural areas were able to more quickly contain the spread because of their sparse populations. By May 28, 1,177 out of 1,417 counties had reduced their infection rates to R1.

Long Way From Herd Immunity

The study, which has been published on a pre-print site and has not yet been peer-reviewed, found that the infection rate varied among counties from 0 to about 29 percent. 

Because herd immunity isn't reached until 50 to 70 percent of a population has been exposed to a virus, the scientists noted that the U.S. is a long way off and that further measures to combat the virus should be specific to each location.

"Our results suggest that strategies for shutdown as well as reopening require careful consideration of county characteristics in addition to state and local trends," the researchers wrote.

Experts urge everyone to continue following local social distancing guidelines, even as warm weather encourages traditional gatherings in beaches and parks. "If people want to get out, they've really got to gauge it with the level of the outbreak in their particular area," said Dr. Anthony Fauci, a key member of the White House pandemic response team, on June 1. 

And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don't miss these Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.

Filed Under