Will Mass Quarantines Slow The Spread Of Coronavirus?
Will Mass Quarantines Slow The Spread Of Coronavirus?iStock

All of Italy is on lockdown. Experts expect to see more quarantines across the globe.

Rebecca Katz, director of the Center for Global Health Science and Security at Georgetown University Medical Center, researched quarantines for the past 10 years, and teaches courses on global health diplomacy, global health security and emerging infectious diseases in the School of Foreign Service.

“We are in the middle of March right now. We're about 10 weeks into this outbreak. And there's a lot of evidence that we are collecting, and there's a lot of analysis that's going to be done simultaneously and also for years to come. But I think that it's important to think about how we define success of a quarantine. Quarantine, by definition, is curtailing individual rights. You are impacting population movement. And not all societies are OK with that," she said.

"And I think what the Chinese were able to do — first of all, it's important to remember that it is completely unprecedented. We have never seen anything at that scale. That being said, when we think about quarantine and what is effective, it’s not just spread of the disease, but also the health and well-being of the population that is having their movement curtailed.

"And the mental health of the populations having their movement curtailed. And are we providing for food, and water, and communication and any other medical needs that they may have? And so ... I think we have to be really careful when we talk about these types of measures. That we’re not just focused on the spread of disease, but also on the population that’s impacted.”

She been asked why we haven’t seen large-scale quarantines in generations. “Bill Gates has said this. This is our hundred-year threat. We are facing a respiratory virus that is easily transmissible, that has a case fatality rate, that even though we're still trying to better understand it, still seems to be about 10 times more deadly than seasonal influenza. So this is a true public health threat.

"And it is a threat to which we don't currently have any medical countermeasures, which means that we have to be thinking about what's in the tool box for non-pharmaceutical interventions. And social distancing is one of the tools in the tool box. In fact, it’s one of the few tools in the tool box. And in fact, it's been a tool since biblical times. So we are in uncharted waters here".

"And I think what people should remember is that our public health communities haven't had to make these types of decisions at this type of scale in, again, approximately 100 years. I mean, we've had other threats, there are other threats that thankfully haven't been as challenging as this — or have had other parameters that we were able to manage. But this is bringing us into a new world. And it means that there's not a massive evidence base that we can be drawing on for all these decisions. So it means that decision-makers are going to be operating with a bit of uncertainty. And making the best judgments they can based off of the information that we have about the virus, about the evidence base, about our populations. But like I said, we're going to be studying this for a long time to come.”