'A small window of time to act:' Early COVID-19 cases spread worse than initially thought, Duke study finds

DURHAM, N.C. (WTVD) -- A recent peer-reviewed study from a Duke University professor and a graduate student shows the spread of COVID-19 globally was worse than initially thought. Hydrology and micrometerology professor Gabriel Katul and graduate student Assaad Mrad led the study that looked at the spread of the virus across 57 countries.

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Their study concluded that global governments had only 20 days to respond to the spread of the deadly virus using non-pharmaceutical options or interventions as treatment.

"These numbers confirm that we only had a small window of time to act, and unfortunately that's not what happened in most countries," said Gabriel Katul in a news release.

Furthermore, Katul and Mrad's study found that, globally, an infected person with COVID-19 on average infected 4.5 new persons, which was more than twice the 2.2 rate initially estimated by the World Health Organization, in areas "where early-phase intervention was insufficient or nonexistent."

"Had we acted in the first week or two, and stopped the first few infections from spreading, we would not be dealing with the cases we are today," said Mrad. The United States recently surpassed 200,000 deaths as a result of the virus. Worldwide, the number tops 1 million. "Now it truly is just damage control," said Mrad.

Both argue Germany as an example of a country who responded with "effective intervention" prior to the virus crossing its borders.

"Being able to catch the vectors of the disease before they go on with their lives and spread the disease further; these two ingredients will be what really would stop the disease further in the United States," Mrad said.

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In late February, President Donald Trump said: "When you have 15 people, and the 15 within a couple of days is going to be down to close to zero, that's a pretty good job we've done."

Katul suggests that while social norms across the nearly five dozen countries is different, the intervention is what makes the most difference.

"The best defense against uncontrolled future outbreaks is to put stringent safety protocols in place at the first sign of an outbreak and make use of the tools science has provided us," Katul said.
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