QCOSTARICA – When implemented together, the mandatory use of masks and vehicle restriction were the most efficient measure to reduce hospitalizations for Covid-19, according to preliminary findings of a recent study.
In contrast, other measures such as the closing of August 10, which only focused on cantons under orange alert, were less efficient in reducing hospitalizations, the preliminary investigation indicates.
“The effect of the measures was neither neutral nor negative. These measures, applied correctly, can alleviate,” one of the study authors and former consultant for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), Tomás de Camino said.
“Definitely the masks are something that should be maintained, along with reduced mobility during the weekends,” added the specialist in mathematical models.
A preliminary version of the study was published on January 5, with the intention of informing the policies to contain the coronavirus. However, it has yet to go through the full scientific peer review process.
The research adds to two other scientific evidences that suggest the effectiveness of the measures to contain Covid-19: a study of the State of the Nation with data from Waze and a mathematical simulation from the University of Costa Rica (UCR).
Hospitals: key indicator
To determine the effectiveness of the measures, the researchers took as a basis the hospitalizations for Covid-19, a data that is reported daily and that has high statistical confidence.
In this way, they created a mathematical calculation to measure the speed at which hospitals fill up. If the result is positive, more people enter the medical center than leave. If the number is negative, this is reversed.
By analyzing the data, the researchers found that the three key moments in which hospitalizations were halted coincide precisely with three moments in which the Government implemented measures.
The key moments were July 11 (strict restriction and closing of shops), August 10 (closure in cantons under orange alert) and September 9 (mandatory use masks and vehicle restriction).
Still, not all measures were equally effective. In fact, the measure with the greatest impact was that of September 9, when the Government made the use of masks mandatory in closed spaces and implemented a vehicle restriction at the weekend.
This measure reduced the speed of hospitalizations by -28 percentage points. In contrast, the canton-focused closure on August 10 halted hospitalizations by -9 percentage points.
That is, the effect of the masks and restriction was greater.
But by eliminating vehicle restriction, masks are not enough, explained another of the study’s authors, Santiago Núñez-Cortés, a researcher at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign.
“When the vehicle restriction is relaxed, around October, the masks were insufficient and the speed of hospitalization goes up again. When there are two measures together, the effect is much stronger than separately,” he said.
The study indicates that strict confinements do reduce hospitalizations, but are necessary especially in cases where the virus is about to get out of control.
“Let’s think of the speed of hospitalizations as a downhill trailer. If we apply the brakes to a downhill trailer and the truck is very full, it costs more to stop it,” explained Núñez-Cortés.
In addition, for it to work, the hammer has to be made in a generalized way throughout the territory and strictly – as happened on July 11 – and not with differences by canton, as was done on August 10.
According to the researchers’ calculations, the July 11 shutdown curbed hospitalizations by -11 percentage points. But, being a confinement of only one week, it did not last: in a matter of eight days it picked up speed again.
“The toughest measures should be improved, to ensure that mobility can be reduced at higher levels,” said De Camino.
The researcher added that this type of study allows us to know if the government’s measures are being effective and pointed out that, like vaccines, measures against the coronavirus need scientific support.
“Any measure that is applied must be supported by research and scientific-technical criteria,” said the researcher.