March 13, 2020

So-called "social distancing" measures are taking hold in the United States as officials look to curb the new coronavirus' spread, with schools, theme parks, stadiums, and more temporarily closing their doors—and some experts say more extreme containment efforts could be coming. 

Our analysis: The 'recurring themes' of disease outbreaks

About the pandemic 

Reports of COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, first surfaced in early December 2019 in Wuhan, China, and quickly spread to other countries. 

The United States saw its first COVID-19 case in late January, and cases have spiked since then. As of Friday morning, state and federal officials had reported 1,663 confirmed or presumed positive cases of COVID-19 in the United States, up from 231 last Friday. So far, 41 U.S. deaths have been linked to the new coronavirus.  

CDC as of Thursday said at least 102 of the cases stemmed from human-to-human transmission of the new coronavirus in the United States, at least 125 were travel related, and at least 988 cases were under investigation.

State and local officials, companies implement social distancing measures 

In response to the spike in cases of COVID-19 in the United States, many state and local officials have implemented social distancing measures intended to curb the new coronavirus' spread. 

For example, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee (D) earlier this week banned gatherings of more than 250 people in the Seattle metro area, and California Gov. Gavin Newsom (D) on Thursday called for the cancellation of gatherings with at least 250 people throughout the entire state. Oregon Gov. Kate Brown (D) has banned gatherings of 250 people or more throughout the state, while New Mexico officials have prohibited "gatherings of 100 or more people in a single room," CNN reports. 

Other areas that have temporarily banned large gatherings include Connecticut, Florida's Miami-Dade County, Indiana, Maryland, New Jersey, New York, and Rhode Island. 

In addition, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo (D) earlier this week deployed the National Guard to implement a one-mile "containment zone" in the New York City suburb New Rochelle, where community spread-cases of COVID-19 have spiked. Cuomo prohibited large gatherings at religious and community centers in the area and closed schools in the area until March 25. 

Officials in other parts of the country also have shut down schools in an attempt to hedge off the coronavirus' spread. Ohio on Thursday became the first state to close all public and private schools for at least three weeks, the Washington Post reports. The announcement was followed by similar moves in Maryland, New Mexico, Oregon, and the District of Columbia. 

According to EdWeek, as of Thursday officials throughout the country had closed or were scheduled to close at least 10,800 schools, affecting at least 4.9 million students. Many more officials made closure announcements Friday morning, the Post reports. In addition, many universities throughout the country have announced that they are suspending in-person classes and instead will have students attend classes online. 

Some organizations and companies also are taking steps to try to curb the new coronavirus' spread. For example, Google earlier this week recommended that all of the company's employees in North America work from home until April at the earliest. 

The sports and entertainment industries also have announced changes intended to address the pandemic. On Wednesday, the NBA suspended professional basketball games indefinitely. Many other sports organizations followed suit, with the NCAA canceling its annual March Madness college basketball tournament, the MLB delaying baseball spring training and Opening Day, the NHL suspending games until it is "appropriate and prudent" to resume, the MLS suspending soccer matches for 30 days, and the PGA Tour and NASCAR announcing they will not allow spectators at their events until further notice. 

The Walt Disney Company on Thursday also announced that it will close its parks in California, Florida, and Paris until the end of March, and landmarks throughout New York City—including Broadway theaters, Carnegie Hall, the Metropolitan Museum of Art, and the New York Philharmonic—have temporarily closed. 

In Washington, D.C., the Smithsonian museums, the National Zoo, and the Kennedy Center are closing, and government officials have temporarily closed the Pentagon, U.S. Capitol, the Supreme Court, and the White House to the public. The White House is considering whether to implement mass telework for staff, and some congressional offices have closed, Politico reports. 

Experts say social distancing is neededand stricter containment measures could come 

According to CNN, the "extraordinary decisions" by government officials, business, and other organizations to temporarily close their doors and encourage telecommuting "reinforc[es] the need for social distancing over the choice of being together at work or play." And the moves likely will "trigger more of the same from companies, campaigns, and others," Politico reports. 

Farzad Mostashari, former national coordinator for health IT at HHS and co-founder and CEO of Aledade, said, "We have to make those hard calls about canceling conferences, telling people to work from home, telling the elderly to stay home, don't come out." 

Some experts have warned that stricter containment measures also could come. 

According to Politico, President Trump on Thursday said that has hasn't yet discussed whether to implement travel restriction in states with high numbers of reported COVID-19 cases, but said such restrictions are possible "if somebody gets a little bit out of control" or if "an area gets too hot" (Maxouris et al., CNN, 3/12; Baker/Jordan, New York Times, 3/13; New York Times, 3/13; Smith et al., New York Times, 3/13; CDC website 3/12; CBS Baltimore, 3/12; EdWeek, 3/12; Luna, Los Angeles Times, 3/13; McCaskill, Politico, 3/12; Calfas, Wall Street Journal, 3/12; Wilson, The Hill, 3/12).

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