New Stanford Study Sheds Light on Why Some Communities Can Open Sooner Than Others

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Why are some Bay Area counties opening faster than others? A new Stanford study is shedding light on how health officials make those decisions and when.

There’s a lot to consider when balancing public health and economic recovery.

After six months of COVID-19 restrictions people in the Bay Area are out and about.

Researchers at Stanford University are using cell phone data, medical records and labor information to re-create cities and put COVID-19 to the test.

“The key finding is that the different lockdown policies performed very differently in different locations,” said Mohammad Akbarpour, Stanford graduate school of business professor.

Density is a key factor. In a city with a lot of people, stricter rules save lives.

“In Chicago, people meet a lot of people, so you have to do more to bring reproduction down,” said Akbarpour. “In Sacramento you don’t have to do as much.”

Researchers say that limiting interactions stops the spread of COVID-19.

In their models, working from home and staggered returns to work make a difference.

“Cut down the number of people who use public transit who commute to work on a given day by, say, limiting half the group to go in on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays," said Shoshana Vasserman, Stanford graduate school of business professor. "Have the other half of the group go in on Tuesdays, Thursdays and maybe Saturdays or Sundays or something like that. It has a similar impact as working from home.”

While every city is different, experts do say that they have one thing in common: masks make a difference.

“The more caution you take, the more people wear masks, the less closure you need to have,” said Vasserman.

The Stanford team is hoping health officers will use their models to do custom analysis and zero in on the most effective policies.

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