Mind and Body

How cities can avoid lockdowns this winter

Jane Khomi


As Covid-19 cases continue to surge, policymakers are weighing strategies that can combat transmission without wreaking economic devastation.

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It's a tall order. While lockdown measures have helped curb an estimated 60 million infections in the United States, shutdowns come with costs — including layoffs and business closures.

The number of Americans looking for work spiked by 4.5 million in April and has remained elevated.


In a recent study researchers analyzed the mobility data of 98 million Americans across the 10 largest metro areas in the United States — and point to a path forward.

The team discovered “it doesn’t have to be all or nothing.”

"If we wouldn't reduce our mobility in a single month, a third of the entire population would be infected. These policy decisions actually really, really work."

— Jure Leskovec, study co-author and computer scientist at Stanford University.

Andriy Onufriyenko

Instead of locking down completely, this team suggests 5 targeted, community-specific policies that can limit the spread of Covid-19. >>

Limit capacity

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Researchers found that reducing occupancy in establishments like restaurants, gyms, and hotels to 20 percent dropped cases of infection by 80 percent — while only reducing total foot traffic by 42 percent.

Offer alternatives

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Emergency food distribution centers can help reduce foot traffic in high-risk stores. Instead of frequenting a crowded grocery store or pharmacy, people can visit a nearby pickup spot for essential items.

Targeted testing

Yulia Reznikov

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Institute free and widely available testing in neighborhoods predicted to be high risk (especially given known disparities in access to tests). This approach could better pinpoint where the virus is spreading and get people the care they need.

Financial support

Luis Alvarez

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Improve paid leave policies or offer income supports that allow essential workers to curtail mobility. Many low-income, minority communities especially don’t have the luxury to stay home when they’re sick. Giving these folks a safety net so they can isolate effectively will curb the spread.

Make safety accessible


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Improve workplace infection prevention for essential workers. This means high-quality PPE, good ventilation, and distance when possible. As scores of studies have shown, masks, PPE, and social distancing work.

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Researchers say it’s time to look beyond blanket interventions to develop nuanced, localized solutions.

Following these steps could help slow Covid-19's spread without killing the economy.

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