With the huge emotional and economic impact the shelter-in-place order has had on the state of California—as similar lockdowns have around the world—one of the foremost questions on everyone’s mind is: Is it working? With the coronavirus spreading so quickly, and many cities and counties slow to react with strict social-distancing measures, no one has really been able to answer that question up to this point.
But here in Santa Cruz County, where shelter-in-place orders went into effect at midnight on Monday, March 16—three days before Governor Gavin Newsom’s statewide order—officials say they are seeing the earliest signs that they may be working to “flatten the curve” of the pandemic’s spread locally.
While acknowledging that there has been too little testing to make broad generalizations, Mimi Hall, director of the county’s Health Services Agency, said at a press conference Sunday that there were some positive signs about the effectiveness of the shelter-in-place order. For instance, on the day the county hit 17 cases, officials had projected to have 27. Also, the number of cases is not doubling every three days as expected, showing instead a more gradual curve.
“We’ve been doing something right, we believe,” Hall said. “The early projections they had three or four weeks ago had us having more positive cases at this point in time. I think it’s encouraging that we have fewer than we projected and that it took us this long to experience our first person passing away. I encourage the public: Please continue doing what you’re doing. It’s important. It really is making a difference.”
This news comes as scientists and other experts are just beginning to report on the effects of social distancing during the pandemic.
Also on Sunday, USA Today reported that an analysis of genomes in the SARS-CoV-2 virus (the scientific name of the coronavirus that causes the COVID-19 illness) sequenced by the San Francisco-based UCSF-Abbott Viral Diagnostics and Discovery Center revealed that the virus has not been able to “gain a serious foothold” in California over the last couple of weeks due to social-distancing measures. More than half of the genomes the lab found were associated with travel to other states, while another 30 percent were related to health care workers and families of infected individuals. Fewer than 20 percent were associated with community spread.