Statistically where is a virus spread?

By now we’ve all heard- ‘Flatten the Curve’, ‘Maintain Social Distance’ and ‘Stop The Spread’, all of which are amazing efforts to save lives and stop the spread of the Global COVID-19 Pandemic.  Yet, people are still getting sick, and infection rates double and triple seemingly overnight. So, how is a virus spread and where are people going that they are exposing themselves to the virus?

How and Where Illness is Spread During a Pandemic

Strategies for mitigating an influenza pandemic: https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04795

Let’s look at how and where illness is spread during a pandemic. In a 2006 study of Pandemics in Great Britain and the United States, published in the Nature Research Journal, found that roughly 30% of transmission occurred at home, and 70% outside of the home. Of that 70%, roughly 33% occurs as community spread, and 37% in schools and workplaces.[1]  Let’s break that down for a moment. 30% of the illness people contracted was from someone they live with, meaning that person brought the illness home with them and infected the other members of the household. 33% occurs when people are out and about in the community, whether that be at a coffee shop, the grocery store or a hair salon- anywhere they traveled within their normal community activities.  The final 37% of transmission occurs at work and at school. 

The disruption in the United States caused by COVID-19 is unlike anything we have seen in our lifetimes. Every aspect of society has been touched by the global threat this virus poses, and it is going to become far more serious before it gets better.  As of yesterday, 23 March, 2020- More than 100 countries worldwide have implemented nationwide closing of all their countries’ schools, which affects more than half of the world’s students. Many more countries have implemented localized school closing, including the United States, which affects millions of more students.[2]  Why then is the virus still spreading at such an alarming rate? The answer is sadly simple, people are not staying home.

Work and school closures are a good first step in slowing the transmission of any virus. These proactive closings can further reduce the spread of COVID-19, thus ‘flattening the curve’ of illness transmission. This is important because less cases requiring medical treatment on a daily basis reduces the burden on local doctors and hospitals which, bottom line, means more lives saved.

Staying home is difficult, I understand, believe me. We can and will get through this, but only if we take the necessary steps to reduce spread. Only go out if you must, and take precautions when you get home so that the virus is not brought into your living space.  Wash your hands. Leave shoes, purses and any other items that may have touched infected surfaces away from active living spaces. Wipe down door knobs with a disinfectant type cleaner and then again wash your hands. Leave non-perishable items you’ve brought into your home alone for 6-12 hours, or perhaps over night to reduce the risk of spread.  If you live in an area with communal living space, please maintain a minimum safe distance of six feet and follow the steps listed above. 

This virus and the effects it’s had on our lives will pass. In the meantime, hunker down and do you best to stay healthy. Drink plenty of water. Get plenty of rest.  Exercise at home. Maintain a routine and set boundaries between your work life and home life and limit exposure to electronics when possible. For now, this is the new normal and it’s going to be okay.  It’s just different and different isn’t always bad.

1- Ferguson, N., Cummings, D., Fraser, C. et al. Strategies for mitigating an influenza pandemic. Nature 442, 448–452 (2006). https://doi.org/10.1038/nature04795

2- https://en.unesco.org/themes/education-emergencies/coronavirus-school-closures