I keep thinking about how if at any point we were all able to actually quarantine for two weeks1 at the same time, the pandemic would be over.
Like, if instead of everyone being more or less cautious over a year, we all agreed on single a two week period to hard quarantine. With plenty of warning, so that people had time to stock up on groceries and do anything important ahead of time. And with massive financial redistribution in advance, so that everyone could afford two weeks without work. And with some planning to equip the few essential-every-week-without-delay workers (e.g. nurses, people keeping the power on) with unsustainably excessive PPE.
This wouldn’t require less total risky activity. If we just managed to move all of the risky activity from one fortnight to the one before it, then that would destroy the virus (and everyone could do as many previously risky activities as they liked in the following fortnight!). It could be kind of like the Christmas week except twice as long and the government would pay most people to stay at home and watch movies or play games or whatever. Maybe the TV channels and celebrities could cooperate and try to put together an especially entertaining lineup.
How unrealistic is this? It sounds pretty unrealistic, but what goes wrong?
Some possible things:
- To actually coordinate that many people, you would need to have serious policing—beyond what is an acceptable alternative to a year-long pandemic—or serious buy-in—beyond what is possible in any normal place of more than ten people.
- Even if you could basically coordinate that many people, you would fail in a few places. And if you fail anywhere, then the disease will gradually build back up.
- You can’t just have everyone buy groceries for a given fortnight at some point in the preceding months, because there aren’t enough groceries in warehouses or enough grocery producers able to spin up extra weeks of grocery production on short notice (I am especially unsure whether this is true).
- The people who do really have to work are too many to over-prepare well for it in a month
- It would cost really a lot of money
- It would need to be longer than two weeks if you wanted to actually crush the disease, because some people are probably infectious for abnormally long times.
- You would need everyone not living alone to stay away from those they live with, to avoid spreading covid within houses, making this a more extreme proposition than it first seems, very hard to police, and basically impossible for households with small children or other very dependent members.
- It’s just way too much logistical effort to make this happen well.
1, 2 and 7 look like the clearest problems to me. I don’t know enough to say if 3, 4 or 8 are real obstacles, and it seems like the US federal government has sent out a lot of money already, so 5 could at worst be solved by doing this thing at the time the money was sent out. 6 seems true, but I’m not sure if the length it would need to be is out of the question, if the other questions are solved.
7 is pretty bad even in a community without dependent people, because it requires active effort from everyone to protect themselves within their houses, which seems much less likely to be ubiquitously complied with than a request to not go to effort to do something (i.e. more people will find the energy to stay on their sofas than will find the energy to set up their room to prepare food in it for a fortnight). Then the dependent people who really need to stay with someone else seem even harder to get the end-of-fortnight risk down for. I could imagine dealing with these problems by spreading people out as much as feasible and requiring longer quarantines for pairs. But the difficulty of that—or need for extending the length of the whole thing—seem quite costly.
On 2 and 7, even if you don’t actually stop the pandemic, and you have to have another occasional scheduled ‘firebreak’ in activity, once cases had built up again, it seems like it could hugely reduce the human cost, without more total caution (just moving the caution in time).
(Also, if you did it for four weeks instead of two, you would only end up with cases where two failures met, i.e. where someone improbably got covid during the first two weeks, then improbably passed it on to another person in the second.)
On 4, One way you might swing this is to have many of the people who work during the two weeks then do their own hard quarantine in the following two weeks, where they can be replaced by some of the workers with similar skills who were at home during the main round.
Many of these depend on scale, and location. For instance, this can clearly often work at the level of a group house, and is probably too ambitious for a large and ideologically diverse nation (especially one that isn’t really organized for people to consistently wear masks after a year). Could it work at the level of a relatively anti-covid city? (The city would then have to limit or quarantine incoming travelers, but that seems doable for many cities.) A small town? A small college campus? A highly religious adult community, where the church was in favor? There are a lot of human groups in the world.
Have I got the main reasons this wouldn’t work? Is there some good solution to them that I haven’t seen?
Has anyone done something like this? There have been lots of lockdowns, but have there been time-bounded almost-total lockdowns scheduled in advance, with huge efforts to avert people needing to take risks during that particular period (e.g. treating moving risks to the time earlier as great compared to running them that week)?
Or however long it takes a person to reliably stop spreading covid, after contracting it. ↩