Dr. Thomas Frieden, former director for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said this week that if New York had implemented social distancing measures even just two weeks sooner, it could have reduced the state's death toll by up to 80%.
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In an interview with the New York Times, Frieden — who also previously served as commissioner of New York City's health department — said that the COVID-19 was spreading across the state before anyone was even aware.
"Flu was coming down, and then you saw this new ominous spike," he said. "And it was COVID."
He added, "You have to move really fast. Hours and days. Not weeks. Once it gets a head of steam, there is no way to stop it."
Freiden told the paper that if the city and the state had closed schools, stores, and restaurants and implemented other social-distancing tactics just a couple weeks earlier, the disease's death toll might have been cut by 50% to 80%.
New York's statewide stay-at-home order went into effect on March 22, likely weeks after the virus began to spread in the state and across the U.S.
In March, Frieden said that social distancing strategies are of utmost importance.
"This is a war," he wrote in a CNN editorial. "And in war, strategy is important. The leading concept, now remarkably widely understood, is flattening the curve. This is an important tactic to protect patients and health care workers from a surge that can overwhelm our hospitals, increase death rates and put health care workers' lives at risk. But it is not a strategy. A month ago today, my organization, which focuses on preventing epidemics, published a concept of operations showing the shading of containment into mitigation, and the need to pause contact tracing when it became impractical and scale up social distancing interventions."
At the time of this writing, New York has at least 140,386 confirmed COVID-19 cases across the state, and at least 5,489 people have died because of the deadly virus.