Vanderbilt researchers: Social distancing must continue in order to slow coronavirus spread

Should restrictions be lifted, the number of hospitalizations in the state could overwhelm local hospitals. (Courtesy Vanderbilt University Medical Center)
Should restrictions be lifted, the number of hospitalizations in the state could overwhelm local hospitals. (Courtesy Vanderbilt University Medical Center)

Should restrictions be lifted, the number of hospitalizations in the state could overwhelm local hospitals. (Courtesy Vanderbilt University Medical Center)

Residents in Middle Tennessee have been under stay-at-home orders for the last several weeks, and there is now evidence to show those efforts are beginning to pay off.

Officials with Vanderbilt University Medical Center announced April 9 there is new data showing evidence that social distancing efforts are working to flatten the curve, or slow the spread of coronavirus in the region. Medical officials have said for the past several weeks that flattening the curve is essential to preventing large spikes in new cases, which could otherwise result in a high number of hospitalizations and overwhelm the capacities of local hospitals.

A new model developed by VUMC shows that if social distancing guidelines remain in place, the number of people hospitalized due to coronavirus complications could peak as soon as mid-June, or even sooner if additional restrictions are put in place to slow the spread.

Under the status quo model, data estimates there could be about 5,000 hospitalizations across the state, which is within the state’s 10,000-bed capacity.

However, should existing social distancing restrictions guidelines be lifted, the number of hospitalizations could rise exponentially, with no estimate as to when it could peak.



John Graves, associate professor of health policy at Vanderbilt University and director of the Center for Health Economic Modeling, said a lifting of social distancing policies must not be done until testing is widely available and until medical professionals can trace infected patients and those with whom they were in contact.

“We all want to go back to some sort of normal, but to be able to relax some of the social distancing guidelines, you have to have in place widespread testing and robust contact tracing,” Graves said in a release.

By Wendy Sturges
A Houston native and graduate of St. Edward's University in Austin, Wendy Sturges has worked as a community journalist covering local government, health care, business and development since 2011. She has worked with Community Impact since 2015 as a reporter and editor and moved to Tennessee in 2019.