The U.S. remains as the center of the COVID-19 pandemic, with 367,650 confirmed cases. Researchers warned that the number may continue to grow since 94 percent of the population is now at risk of coronavirus infection due to local transmission.
A new model from researchers at the University of Texas at Austin shows that 72 percent of the 3,142 counties in the U.S. are already facing coronavirus outbreaks. The team said the more than 360,000 reported cases of COVID-19 may be lower than the real number of infections, Business Insider reported Monday.
Combining the number of residents from the affected areas would cover 94 percent of the country’s population. Researchers created the model using a tool they previously used to analyze the Zika virus.
They looked into confirmed cases in each county as of April 2 and the risk of undetected community transmission of coronavirus in each county.
“For counties that have not yet reported a confirmed case, the chance that there is an undetected outbreak underway is 9 percent,” researchers said in their report. “A single detected case of COVID-19 increases that risk to 51 percent.”
National Lockdown To Fight COVID-19
With the majority of the population facing a coronavirus outbreak in their county, the researchers said implementing a nationwide lockdown could help slow down the spread of the virus. The federal government currently relies on states that set their own stay-at-home orders to fight COVID-19.
Researchers warned that waiting for large-scale restrictions could put more people at risk and cost lives.
“While low population density may help to delay the emergence and subsequent spread of the disease, COVID-19 has successfully spread in other rural regions of the U.S.,” Emily Javan, one of the report’s authors, told Business Insider. “Our estimates suggest that all regions should take immediate preventative measures to mitigate community spread.”
The report suggests that officials implement “proactive social distancing” before two cases occur in a community. Researchers said such effort could help stop community transmission and avoid sudden increase in hospitalizations.
“I worry that many local officials are waiting until there is clear evidence of local transmission before taking action,” Lauren Ancel Meyers, an author of the report and a professor of biology and statistics at UT Austin, told the New York Times. “The message is, we should not wait.”