UVA research shows social distancing is working; models examine possible futures


RICHMOND, Va. (WAVY) — Social distancing is working, but we’re in this for the long haul, health officials said Monday.

During a webinar with Virginia Health Secretary Dan Carey, researcher Bryan Lewis with the University of Virginia Biocomplexity Institute said Virginia hospitals should have enough resources for at least the next two months, according to coronavirus models put together by the university. 

Lifting social distancing restrictions too soon, though, could quickly lead to a second wave. Hospitals would reach capacity in the fall, if on June 10 Virginians resume half-normal lifestyles.

“What ‘half’ means exactly is difficult to fully describe, but in this current situation we’ve got a lot of folks staying at home, not doing a lot,” Lewis said.

Carey responded later by saying the UVA models show how bad it could be, but, “We’re never going to let it get to that.” 

“We’ve definitely got to develop a different tool kit besides open everything up or open it halfway,” he said.

Carey described some strategies that could help determine who goes back to work including conducting complex antibody testing to see who’s already been infected or doing temperature assessments.   

“How to do that in a complex open society like the U.S. and in Virginia in a nuanced and responsible way … we’ve got to develop that,” he said. “… We don’t have this all figured out, there’s not a tool kit developed yet at the federal level but we will, we are looking at what those tools are.”

Experts said it’s important to note that no models can tell us exactly what will happen — but as new and better data becomes available every day, the models get better too. State leaders say they will be paying attention to that data as they make policy decisions.

Gov. Ralph Northam also discussed social distancing during a press conference Monday.

On models of the coronavirus, which predict how many people will get sick and how hospitals can handle the crisis, Northam said the University of Virginia model shows social distancing is working, and Virginia hospitals have enough capacity to handle the surge in cases.

However, he said that’s only if Virginians continue to follow guidelines. If not, the commonwealth’s peak will be higher and come sooner.

“We’re going to need to keep living this way for the near future … the key is for us to keep doing what we’re doing,” Northam said.

Gov. Ralph Northam

As far a possible date to end his stay at home orders, Northam says his team is taking things one day at a time and “As soon as we can…. get people back to their lives, I will do that.”

Click here to watch the full April 13 briefing.

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