Jun 9, 2020 - Health

Social distancing may have prevented almost 5 million confirmed U.S. coronavirus cases

 Signage on the floor of the Times Square subway platform asks commuter to maintain a safe social distance

Photo: David Dee Delgado/Getty Images

The U.S. would have seen 4.8 million more confirmed coronavirus cases — and 60 million more total infections — without social distancing, according to a new study published in Nature.

Why it matters: When evaluating the cost of social distancing to the U.S. economy and society writ large, this is the number of cases to measure it against — not the actual number, which reflects the health benefits of the measures.

The big picture: The study estimated the impact of social distancing measures in six countries: China, South Korea, Iran, Italy, France and the U.S.

  • Among these countries, the measures prevented or delayed 62 million confirmed cases, or about 530 million total infections, the authors found.

Between the lines: How quickly a country implemented social distance measures likely had a strong effect on health outcomes, the authors write, and countries' responses had impacts of varying degrees.

  • For example, the authors estimated that, in the absence of large-scale social distancing measures, there would have been 465 times more confirmed cases in China, 17 times more cases in Italy and 14 times more cases in the U.S.
  • The U.S. still has the highest number of documented coronavirus cases in the world.

Go deeper...Study: Government-enforced coronavirus social distancing works

Editor's note: A previous version of this headline incorrectly stated social distancing may have prevented almost 5 million coronavirus deaths, rather than confirmed cases.

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