Lockdown Delays Led to at Least 36,000 More Deaths, Models Find

Lockdown Delays Led to at Least 36,000 More Deaths, Models Find

If the United States had begun imposing social-distancing measures one week earlier in March, about 36,000 fewer people would have died in the pandemic, according to new estimates from Columbia University disease modelers.

And if the country had begun locking down cities and limiting social contact on March 1, two weeks earlier than when most people started staying home, a vast majority of the nation’s deaths — about 83 percent — would have been avoided, the researchers estimated.

The enormous cost of waiting to take action reflects the unforgiving dynamics of the outbreak that swept through American cities in early March. Even small differences in timing would have prevented the worst exponential growth, which by April had subsumed New York City, New Orleans and other major cities, the researchers found.

“It’s a big, big difference,” said Jeffrey Shaman, an epidemiologist at Columbia and the leader of the research team. “That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”

The findings are based on infectious-disease modeling that gauges how reduced contact between people starting in mid-March slowed transmission of the virus.

On March 16, President Trump urged Americans to limit travel, avoid groups and stay home from school. Mayor Bill de Blasio of New York City closed schools on March 15, and Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo of New York issued a stay-at-home order that took effect on March 22.

But in cities like New York, where the virus arrived early and spread quickly, those actions were too late to avoid a calamity. Dr. Shaman’s team modeled what would have happened if those same changes had taken place one or two weeks earlier and estimated the spread of infections and deaths until May 3.

The results show that as states reopen — all 50 states had eased restrictions somewhat as of Wednesday — outbreaks can easily get out of control unless officials closely monitor infections and immediately clamp down on new flare-ups.

And they show that each day that officials waited to impose restrictions in early March came at a great cost.

In Connecticut, flags that had been lowered to half-staff during the somber peak of the pandemic were raised high again to signal the state’s return to business.

In Kentucky, gift shops opened their doors. South Carolina will let mini-golf, water parks, amusement parks and other attractions reopen for Memorial Day weekend, Gov. Henry McMaster said on Wednesday.

Officials said there were no known injuries or deaths tied to the floods.

As news of the disaster spread, Mr. Trump threatened on Twitter to withhold federal funds to Michigan if the state proceeded to expand vote-by-mail efforts. The president then followed up by saying that the Federal Emergency Management Agency and the military had been deployed to Michigan to assist with disaster response.

Michael D. Cohen, President Trump’s former personal lawyer and fixer, will be released from a federal prison on Thursday on furlough, a Bureau of Prisons spokeswoman said on Wednesday. He had asked to be released over health concerns tied to the coronavirus.

It is unclear whether Mr. Trump has discussed the idea with other Group of 7 leaders and how willing they would be to travel abroad with the large staff and security entourages they require.

The French government said that President Emmanuel Macron was “prepared to go to Camp David, health conditions permitting,” given the importance of the group in the pandemic response.

The remarks from Mr. Daniels, who served two terms as Indiana’s governor, drew criticism online, as there is still much that is unknown about how the virus affects younger populations and how they might unknowingly spread the virus.

In March, data from the C.D.C. showed that nearly 40 percent of patients sick enough to be hospitalized were between 20 and 54 years old. More recently, neurologists in New York, New Jersey, Detroit and elsewhere have reported a sudden increase in unexplained strokes among younger patients that may be linked to the virus.

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