Social Distancing Works, Data Show

Two weeks into mandatory stay-at-home orders in the San Francisco Bay area and Washington state, there’s evidence the curve of infections is flattening compared with other U.S. metro areas. (Photo: People wait at a bus stop in the Union Square neighborhood of San Francisco/The Washington Post)

The Washington Post

Social Distancing Works. The Earlier the Better, California & Washington Data Show.

SAN FRANCISCO — Mandatory social distancing works. The earlier the better, preliminary data from two weeks of stay-at-home orders in California and Washington show.

Those states were the first to report community cases of covid-19 and also the first in the nation to mandate residents stay at home to keep physically apart. Analyses from academics and federal and local officials indicate those moves bought those communities precious time — and also may have “flattened the curve” of infections for the long haul.

While insufficient testing limits the full picture, it’s clear the disease is spreading at different speeds in different places in the United States. California and Washington continue to see new cases and deaths, but so far they haven’t come in the spikes seen in parts of the East Coast. Social distancing efforts need to continue for several more weeks to be effective, experts say.

The data give “great hope and understanding about what is possible,” said Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, during a Tuesday briefing. “In New Orleans, and Detroit, and Chicago and Boston right now, [we’re] trying to make sure that each of those cities work more like California than the New York metro area.”

It has been 16 days since counties in the San Francisco Bay area told some 6 million residents to stay at home, and 13 days since the order extended to all of California. As of Tuesday, the number of confirmed infections per capita in densely populated New York City was 15 times that of the Bay Area. In New York City, a flood of coronavirus patients has overwhelmed local hospitals and 1,096 people have died. New York state ordered people to stay home 11 days ago.

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