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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Coronavirus cases increase in 17 states

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Data: The COVID Tracking Project, state health departments; Map: Andrew Witherspoon, Sara Wise/Axios

Coronavirus infections ticked up slightly over the past week, thanks to scattered outbreaks in every region of the country.

Where it stands: The U.S. has been making halting, uneven progress against the virus since August. Overall, we're moving in the right direction, but we're often taking two steps forward and one step back.

Sep 16, 2020 - Health

CDC director suggests face masks offer more COVID-19 protection than vaccine would

CDC director Robert Redfield suggested in a Senate Appropriations subcommittee hearing on Wednesday that face masks are "more guaranteed" to protect against the coronavirus than a vaccine, citing the potential for some people to not become immune to the virus after receiving the shot.

What he's saying: "These face masks are the most important, powerful public health tool we have. And I will continue to appeal for all Americans, all individuals in our country, to embrace these face coverings. I've said if we did it for 6, 8, 10, 12 weeks, we'd bring this pandemic under control," he said.

Updated Sep 16, 2020 - Health

Top HHS spokesperson takes leave of absence after accusing scientists of "sedition"

Michael Caputo in Washington, D.C. in May 2018. Photo: Mark Wilson/Getty Images

Department of Health and Human Services spokesperson Michael Caputo is taking a 60 day leave of absence "to focus on his health and the well-being of his family," the agency said in a statement on Wednesday.

Driving the news: Caputo baselessly accused career scientists at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in a Facebook livestream on Sunday of gathering a "resistance unit" for "sedition" against President Trump, the New York Times reported on Tuesday. He apologized to staff on Tuesday, according to Politico.