How Long Will Lockdowns Last in the United States?
After statements by President Trump over the past weeks saying that COVID-19 would miraculously disappear by April and that the country would be back to normal by Easter, more and more people are wondering these days what the President was basing his predictions on. Now, instead of touting a quick and early easing of lockdown measures, President Trump has changed his messaging once again by extending the federal guidelines on social distancing until at least the end of April. Amidst news of how COVID-19 is spreading throughout the United States, the place worst hit by the virus right now is New York City. Without a doubt, New York has turned into the new global epicenter, after the virus emerged from China and ravaged Italy and Spain over the past months.
At the same time, many places in the United States do not seem to be very affected by COVID-19 at all, with some citizens even going as far as calling the outbreak a “hoax” by the “liberal media”. However, as examples from outside and inside the country have shown, COVID-19 can change from just infecting a few people to suddenly threatening almost everyone within a matter of days. After all, this is how exponential growth works. Think about it, if one person infects another three persons on average per day, then one infected person turns into four by day two. Then, those four people infect three more people each, which turns the total number of infected people into 16, then into 80, then into 400, and so on.
Still, though, if there are a couple of people who are infected with COVID-19, then the only thing people would need to do, in theory, is keeping those few people away from everyone else and the virus would be contained. But this is where you hit on the next problem: How do you know who is infected? One of the biggest challenges when it comes to COVID-19 is that it is what experts call “asymptomatic” for a quite some time after infection.
This means that people could carry the virus already, thereby running around infecting more people with it, without showing any symptoms of having the virus. In other words, neither they nor anyone else knows that they are carrying the virus, so they do not get isolated. In the United States, the massively and unnecessarily delayed response by the Trump administration meant that the virus was able to spread around the population for weeks before any actions were taken, which is one of the reasons why places like New York are so badly affected now.
But even if you knew exactly who is infected and who is not, another problem with exponential growth is that there are only so many hospital beds in any area of the United States. If one patient turns into hundreds, or even thousands, in a matter of days, then treatment options are going to run out quickly. Even just isolating thousands of people from other, healthy Americans is already a challenge. On top of that, there is some evidence that surviving a COVID-19 infection does not even necessarily make you immune to the virus, so even throwing your hands up in the air and saying that you just let it spread through the population to be done with it may not work to defeat the virus, even if it would kill millions of Americans in the process.
All of this uncertainty, the threat of overburdening the healthcare system and the massive challenge in containing the virus are the reasons why lockdowns are being put into place across the globe, and also in the United States. Because if you have no idea who has the virus and you have no way of fighting the virus directly even if you knew who had it, then the only thing you can do is to make sure that the virus runs out of hosts to jump through. This is what the lockdown and all the recommendations for personal hygiene and social distancing are designed to do. Because while there is no way of fighting the virus while it is inside your body, it will run out of steam as soon as it runs out of people to infect – similar to how a fire burns out if you deprive it of more wood to burn through.
The thing is though, as soon as the rate of infection slows down and the United States successfully manages to “flatten the curve” – which means to put a stop to the exponential rate of infections – then you have to take care of a new risk: Things are getting better, but if you stop your measures now, then you are just adding wood to the fire again. The people who still carry the virus are going to start infecting more people again and the curve just ramps up once more.
To sum it up, it is impossible to tell how long will lockdowns last in the United States right now. There are simply too many unknown factors involved. The only thing that anyone can say for sure is that washing your hands well and regularly works, because it kills the virus. It also works to not touch your face, because that way you avoid carrying the virus to any orifices through which it can enter your body. And, finally, social distancing works because that way, the virus cannot spread as quickly – or, if done consequently, is unable to spread anymore altogether. This is why, at the end of the day, the best thing anyone can do right now is to stay at home, even if it is frustrating.