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Public Health Expert Says Ohio's COVID-19 Curfew Could Actually Backfire

As record-breaking numbers of coronavirus cases continue to be reported across the U.S., Ohio and other states have invoked curfew orders to try to stem the surge.

But some medical and public health experts are puzzled by curfew orders, saying there is not much scientific evidence that curfews will do much to slow the spread of the virus.

Ohio is currently under a 21-day curfew advisory, which asks people to only leave their homes for essential trips between 10 p.m. and 5 a.m. It also suggests some businesses close during these times.

“It's really not a business curfew, it's a curfew,” Governor Mike DeWine said when he announced the curfew.

“The goal is to have fewer contacts, and if we can take these contacts that people have with other people down 20 percent, 30 percent, we saw the impact it had in the spring.”

But this curfew could actually do more harm than good, said Dr. Amesh Adalja, infectious disease scholar at Johns Hopkins University.

“I wonder if this will actually, paradoxically, increase what we are seeing already in the epidemiology – that private gatherings are what’s driving the spread,” he said. “You have to be very careful with these types of measures because there could be unintended consequences that occur," he said.

For example, closing businesses at 10 p.m. could actually backfire by encouraging people to gather with others in their homes, rather than in businesses where masking and social distancing measures are in place, Adalja said.

“Having a curfew is really just going to have more people in their houses spreading it to each other when they invite people over because they can’t go to the local restaurant,” he said.

Plus, limiting business hours will make places more crowded during the day, which could further increase the virus spread, Adalja added.

State and local officials have resorted to measures such as curfews because they do not have the funding and resources to conduct enough testing, and contact tracing is lagging behind, he said.

“We still, 11 months into this, are making the same mistakes that we made back in March and April. We still have no ability to test, trace, and isolate,” he said.

“Governments at all levels have kind of failed at this core mission of protecting people from getting infected.”

Stay-at-home advisories, such as the one imposed by Cuyahoga County and the City of Cleveland, are a step in the right direction, Adalja said, and a stronger measure to take than curfews.

“I do think the stay-at-home advisories can have an important impact on just getting people to be more mindful of what’s going on, and giving people some ability to risk-calculate and take some personal responsibility,” he said.

Adalja does not recommend shutting down businesses, but local officials could consider canceling large-scale gatherings and community events during the upcoming holiday season, he said.

And, while contact tracing is lagging in many local health departments, he encourages officials to concentrate on case investigations, rather than making all of the tracing calls.

“You can’t give up on case investigations - you actually have to figure out, how is this person getting infected?” he added. “You might not call all of their contacts, but at least you can then say – they’re getting infected at such and such venues, or in their homes, and then you issue guidance for how to mitigate that.”

The stay-at-home advisory lasts for 28 days, which equates to two consecutive incubation periods of COVID-19, and ends Dec. 17. The statewide curfew order ends Dec. 10.

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