One year ago today: “15 Days to Stop the Spread”


Via the Daily Caller, it’s been a long 15 days.

I looked back through our archives today to try to remember March 16, 2020, a moment when COVID was first crashing down on New York City and nervous Americans were hoping that a lockdown of a few weeks might shrink the virus to containable levels. “The fateful question is: How long will it go on?” I wrote in one post. “If we all stay away from each other for a month, bringing the economy to its knees, what ground will we have gained against the virus by the time we all start interacting again?… What’s different a month from now after the curve has been flattened and we all start shaking hands again?”

Some of our headlines from that day make me laugh bitterly in hindsight. Ed had a post titled, “CDC: How About We Limit Gatherings To 50 For The Next Eight Weeks Or So?” (“If [students] aren’t back in school until May, that will seriously impact parents’ ability to work outside the home,” he warned, several paragraphs in.) John worried that some movie theaters that closed due to pandemic restrictions might never reopen. Late that night I wrote about the United Kingdom shifting its COVID strategy from a sort of controlled herd immunity, in which the elderly would isolate while the young and healthy largely went about their business, to a lockdown approach. The reason: Models suggested that the first strategy would result in 250,000 dead. A year later the UK has seen a death toll of almost exactly half that number. They’re in a partial lockdown today, as I write this, although it’s begun to ease thanks to the enormous strides made in lowering the daily case counts by their vaccination program.

As for Jazz, he was looking on the bright side, writing up the news that the first shot in a new vaccine trial had been administered that very morning in Seattle. A company called Moderna was partnering with NIH to try to find a solution to the developing pandemic.

The White House held an event that morning to announce their “15 days” strategy. Watch 80 seconds in which Deborah Birx utters this immortal quote: “If everybody in America does what we ask for over the next 15 days, we will see a dramatic difference, and we won’t have to worry about the ventilators, and we won’t have to worry about the ICU beds, because we won’t have our elderly and our people at the greatest risk having to be hospitalized.” Read on after viewing.

At 43:18 of that same clip, you’ll find Fauci discussing the vaccine trial in Seattle. Did the 15-day strategy help to … well, not stop the spread but to slow it down? Sure, probably:

We can’t read too much into case counts during the early months of the pandemic since testing was so limited but it took three months after the first wave before we experienced a measurable bump in cases, once the “summer surge” began in the south. The worst of COVID’s early days remained largely confined to New York, New Jersey, and the northeast. When the 15 days was up, Fauci claimed that the two weeks of lockdown mitigation had clearly had an effect in tamping down cases. In hindsight, I wonder if he regrets that the “15 days” timeline gave Americans a ludicrously unrealistic set of expectations about how long it might take to rein in the virus and whether social distancing would ever be equal to the task of containment.

Ironically, the one person that day who seemed to be operating on a more realistic timeline, that this was an effort that would take months, not weeks, was the president. I’ll leave you with his warning that it could take until the end of summer for the virus to “wash through” the country before we finally got a reprieve. Despite his comments here, by the end of the 15-day period he was already impatient for businesses to reopen and targeting Easter to get the economic rebound started. He eventually moved off that date, but rarely if ever again would he show the sort of “safety first” patience in setting timelines that he did in this clip.



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