As Louisiana and other states begin to loosen lockdown restrictions in order to open the economy back up amidst a pandemic, experts continue to study and research the best model to decrease both COVID-19 deaths and the economic damage of a shutdown. With a vaccine for coronavirus still perhaps a year away, stay-at-home orders aimed to protect health have caused an economic crisis costing 36 million Americans their jobs, according to WWL-TV.
In order to prevent more waves of the virus while still getting the economy back on track, a study published in the European Journal of Epidemiology proposed a rolling method of 50 days of strict lockdowns followed by 30 days of relaxed restrictions. Dr. Rajiv Chowdhury, a global health epidemiologist at the University of Cambridge, explains this as perhaps a more sustainable option, with intermittent strict social distancing followed by a shorter period allowing the national economies to breathe.
The study analyzed three different scenarios across 16 different countries in Africa, South and West Asia, Australia, Western Europe, North America, and South America, not including the United States. They found that the model of 50 days of lockdown and 30 days of relaxation would reduce the infection rate to a point that ICUs and healthcare systems could handle and keep COVID-19 deaths down. However, that interval model would lengthen the period of the pandemic to over 18 months for all the countries considered.
Another model showed that with no lockdown measures, there would be more COVID-19 patients than intensive care units could treat, in almost any of the considered countries. This study projected the epidemic would last about 200 days in most countries but lead to 7.8 million deaths in those 16 countries alone. The other model looked at a similar rolling system of 50 days of mitigation measures, not as strict as lockdowns, then 30 days of relaxing. This would reduce the number of people each infected person could go on to infect, but it still wouldn't be low enough to meet the capacity for ICU treatment. The study concluded that this method would ultimately make the pandemic last 12 to 18 months and lead to 3.5 million deaths in just the 16 considered countries.
The researchers say one of the most important takeaways is that the infection rates, death rates, and durations of the pandemic vary with each different country's region, resources, and healthcare capacities. The experts see these models as strategies that countries should look at to control their infection rates.
"Our study provides a strategic option that countries can use to help control COVID-19 and delay the peak rate of infections," Professor Oscar Franco from the University of Bern in Switzerland said, according to WWL-TV. "This should allow them to buy valuable time to shore up their health systems and increase efforts to develop new treatments or vaccines."
The study also looked at a model of three straight months of strict lockdowns and one of more than half a year with looser rules. While these would greatly reduce new cases to zero, the detrimental effect these models would have on the economy made experts consider them unsustainable. In the end, Franco says there is no easy solution to the issue, and each nation will have to make some difficult decisions.
"Countries—particularly low-income countries—will have to weigh up the dilemma of preventing COVID-19-related deaths and public health system failure with the long-term economic collapse and hardship," Franco said.