Perhaps the most frustrating aspect of the COVID-19 pandemic is reading that non-pharmaceutical interventions (NPI) like social distancing, stay-at-home orders, and business closures are saving lives. They are not.
NPI merely delay cases, and potentially deaths, not prevent them from ever occurring in the way a vaccine or cure would. Flattening the curve only prevents excess deaths from the health care system being overwhelmed. A three month or three year lock down does not alter Americans’ vulnerability to a new and sometimes deadly virus.
Epidemiological models divide the population into three groups, susceptible, infected, and recovered (with a fourth perhaps for deceased). With any brand new virus like SARS-CoV-2, everyone is initially susceptible. Once a virus is widespread, NPI merely keep people in the susceptible bin; for viruses with very limited outbreaks like SARS and MERS, NPI can suppress and basically eradicate the virus. An effective treatment ensures everyone in the infected bin makes it to the recovered bin, while a vaccine moves people from susceptible directly to recovered.