As we approach the end of 2020, a meaningful slowdown of COVID-19 seems unlikely. New cases are trending upwards and it appears that the curve may even worsen as we advance into the winter months. Such trajectories are predicted by the virus’s current R0, or R-naught, value.
It’s important to understand that R0 is not a fixed number. Rather, it’s a “floating” term used to describe how infectious a disease is at a given point in time, due to factors like social contact and environmental conditions that make spreading more likely. And it’s most relevant when everyone in a population is vulnerable to the disease - i.e. when no one has been vaccinated, no one has antibodies (because they’ve already had the disease), and there’s no way to control its spread. An R0 value of 1 means that, on average, an infected person will pass a disease along to one other person. An R0 of 1.25 suggests that one person will infect more than one person, and so on.
In practical terms, this means that if one individual infected with a disease like COVID-19 - which has an R0 value of X as of this writing - does not practice any social distancing measures, they will have infected over 400 people at the end of a 30 day period. If that one infected person reduces their social interactions by just 50%, they would infect only about 15 other people in the same 30 day period. In March 2020, we saw COVID’s R0 drop below 1 after just a few weeks of social distancing. By the end of June though, when many states began to relax their distancing guidelines, that number rose back up, eventually settling between 1 and 1.5.
The world saw the most effective - and strictest - measures taken in New Zealand, an island country with a population of 4.8 million people. From March through April, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern’s hard restrictions came as the “elimination phase” of lockdown, enabling the country to report no new cases of COVID-19 within the first week of May. This directly led to R0 dropping to 0.4, an infection rate of less than half a person. Though New Zealand saw a newfound emergence of cases in August, the cluster contained only about 30 people. As a country, they positively managed COVID-19 effectively by reducing social exposure, which allowed the R0 to fall.
People should continue to wear a mask or face covering while social distancing, as county and state guidance often remains ambiguous on defining what this means. Digital signage and virtual queuing allow businesses to continue to safely serve their communities by reducing the number of people that come into contact with one another. Digital signage gives these businesses opportunities to clearly communicate with their patrons, while mobile queuing systems like FireCast SmartFlow offer a number of tools to help reduce confusion and give organizations the control they need to effectively manage daily traffic flow.
A digital queue system alleviates many social distancing problems by helping venues manage the number of people who are permitted into a space at any given time, whether they are booking an appointment in advance or simply scanning a QR barcode or sending a text to get in line upon arrival. This reduces the need for public-facing touchscreen devices and other physical touchpoints.
The inevitable ebb and flow of infection rates for COVID-19 will continue well into 2021, and perhaps into 2022. It is likely we will see the R0 value fall below 1 again and rise above 1.25. With companies like WireSpring helping businesses navigate the nuances of social distancing, smart uses of technologies like virtual queues, curbside order fulfilment, temperature scanning kiosks and contact tracing apps will hopefully contribute to a reduction in R0.