In the United States, the handling of coronavirus has varied quite a bit across the country. Some states, like California, recommended shutdowns and shelter-in-place orders relatively quickly, while others, like Florida, showed an unwillingness to shut down beaches during Spring Break and have only recently began taking stricter action. Now, we are finally able to see whether or not these responses have been effective, as the numbers of cases are creating a curve we can monitor. The question now stands: is social distancing working?
The answer is that it depends. Yes, social distancing is working to flatten the curve in places where it was adopted early. But in others, the recommendations were put in place later, leading to larger outbreaks where we haven't even seen peaks yet.
The contrast is most stark between California and New York. Six mayors in the Bay Area issued stay-at-home orders on March 16th, which was extreme compared to what other places were doing at that time. Three days later, California governor Gavin Newsom followed suit with a statewide stay-at-home order. New York, meanwhile, waited nearly another week before Governor Andrew Cuomo issued his state’s stay-at-home order on March 22nd.
Two weeks later, California has seen fewer cases than they expected to have at this point, while New York City has become the epicenter of the U.S. pandemic. As of Wednesday, New York has 76,049 confirmed cases of COVID-19 while California has 8,584. "We believe very strongly the stay-at-home order has helped advance our efforts in reducing the stress on the system that we believe would have already materialized in more acute ways had we not advanced those protocols when we did," Newsom said Monday.
President Trump’s most recent address changed social distancing recommendations to extend to April 30th (he had previously said he hoped the country would be back to business-as-usual by Easter, April 12th), though many health experts warn it should continue for longer. Of the five states with the highest numbers of confirmed cases — New York, New Jersey, California, Michigan, and Florida — Florida Governor Ron DeSantis is the only to not have not issued a state-wide order until Wednesday, April 1.
Social distancing and staying at home is “really the only thing we can point to that reliably would suggest that’s why we have fewer cases than other communities around the country,” Jahan Fahimi, medical director of the emergency department at University of California, San Francisco’s Parnassus campus, told Politico. “What I can say is how many critically ill patients we have, and that has not surged. Something is working.