A woman waiting to cross Michigan Avenue in Chicago on March 20.

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About 83% of US coronavirus deaths could have been avoided if nationwide lockdowns were imposed just two weeks earlier, on March 1, researchers at Columbia University found. The research has yet to be peer-reviewed.

If lockdowns were imposed on March 8 — a week earlier than when the Trump administration imposed federal social distancing guidelines — the disease modelers at the university estimated that 36,000 fewer people would have died from COVID-19.

However, on March 9, President Donald Trump continued to downplay the severity of the virus and consistently touted his ban on travel from China, but the virus had already made landfall and began its undetected spread throughout the US.

“It’s a big, big difference,” epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman, who led the Columbia research team, told The Times. “That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”

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Researchers estimate that if nationwide lockdowns were imposed just two weeks earlier, on March 1, a vast majority of coronavirus deaths in the United States — about 83% — could have been avoided, The New York Times reported.

State-wide lockdowns were imposed in mid- to late-March as cases began to rise in the US. At the start of March, there were around 20 confirmed COVID-19 deaths.

But due to lack of a widespread testing strategy at the time, the virus began spreading undetected in communities around the country, researchers at Northeastern University previously told The Times.

“It’s a big, big difference,” epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman, who led the Columbia research team, told The Times. “That small moment in time, catching it in that growth phase, is incredibly critical in reducing the number of deaths.”

March proved to be a crucial time of action as cases spiked in the US come April. However, President Donald Trump continued to downplay the threat of the coronavirus in the country and perceive it as a foreign threat from China.

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“So last year 37,000 Americans died from the common Flu. It averages between 27,000 and 70,000 per year. Nothing is shut down, life & the economy go on,” Trump tweeted on March 9. “At this moment there are 546 confirmed cases of CoronaVirus, with 22 deaths. Think about that!”

Disease modelers at Columbia University found that if sweeping stay-at-home orders were imposed just after the first week of March, on March 8, as many as 36,000 fewer people would have died from the coronavirus by May 3, according to The Times article.

The research, which has not yet been peer-reviewed, is based on models that “are based on infectious disease modeling that gauges how reduced contact between people starting in mid-March slowed transmission of the virus,” The Times reported.

A researcher not involved with the study, Lauren Ancel Meyers an epidemiologist at the University of Texas at Austin, said, “This implies that if interventions had occurred two weeks earlier, many Covid-19 deaths and cases would have been prevented by early May, not just in New York City but throughout the US.”

The president consistently touts his decision to impose travel bans on China and later countries in Europe as a reason for the “low” threat the coronavirus posed to Americans, but the virus had already made landfall and began its undetected spread throughout the states.

In the absence of a coronavirus vaccine, experts said the safest way to reopen the country amid the pandemic is to establish a nationwide testing and contact tracing system to identify COVID-19 cases and properly quarantine the sick, not every single American.

Researchers at Harvard estimated that the US needed to administer at least 20 million coronavirus tests a day by late July in order to “fully remobilize the country.” However, testing in the US continues to fall short of the goal, with a little under 13 million total tests being done across the country as of May 20.

After Federal guidelines for social distancing expired at the end of April, states have been rushing to reopen their economies, some of which have not met the proper criteria to do so safely, a Johns Hopkins University researcher asserted during her congressional testimony.

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