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Let's talk more about this - the White House coronavirus task force is going to sit down today for a meeting with infectious disease modelers. These are experts who use computer simulations to make predictions. And a new analysis from one research group is particularly sobering. NPR's Nell Greenfieldboyce says this will help us understand why officials have taken such dramatic steps to alter life in America.
NELL GREENFIELDBOYCE, BYLINE: To some, the dramatic measures being taken around the country may seem like overkill - telling people to work from home or to avoid bars and restaurants - but take a look at a new report put out by folks at Imperial College London, one of the world's top research teams for simulating infectious disease outbreaks. They calculate that if the U.S. did nothing to try to mitigate this epidemic, over 2 million people could die. Obviously, officials are doing something. And this study says if they want to keep U.S. hospitals from being completely overwhelmed, there's really only one option.
MARC LIPSITCH: We are going to have to have very tight controls in place on transmission through social distancing, and those controls are going to be so tight that they will be economically and socially very damaging.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Marc Lipsitch is an expert on disease modeling at Harvard University. He says this new study takes everything researchers know now and provides a comprehensive assessment of the current dilemma.
LIPSITCH: There are two horrible options.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Either everyone hunkers down to slow the spread of the virus, potentially for months, disrupting people's lives and the economy, or the health care system faces far more cases than it could possibly handle.
LIPSITCH: The only hope I see for resolving that is to find some ways of fighting this epidemic that we haven't got yet.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: Like a new treatment or a vaccine or a whole new approach to handling people who get sick. Another infectious disease modeller is Cecile Viboud at the National Institutes of Health. She says this new simulation is good, but she cautions that there's a lot of uncertainty in models. For example, no one understands how much the virus is spread by children. Still, she says widespread social distancing is buying some time.
CECILE VIBOUD: And that's time that we can use to prepare for the next phase, which includes more testing, and also to prepare hospitals.
GREENFIELDBOYCE: She says more testing could allow for more targeted public health efforts and that much can be learned from China and South Korea, which are experimenting with slowly lifting restrictions on social activity.
Nell Greenfieldboyce, NPR News.
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