NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) – New research shows thousands of COVID-19 deaths may have been preventable if the United States had acted faster with social distancing policies.

The first cases of coronavirus in the U.S. were reported in early January, but the government didn’t urge people to avoid large groups until mid-March.

Now researchers at Columbia University say they believe approximately 36,000 lives could have been saved if social distancing started just days earlier than it did.

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“Our estimates are that a majority of deaths would have been prevented. Just over 50% of them would have been reduced for the total numbers that we see by May 3, if we had acted just a week earlier,” said epidemiologist Jeffrey Shaman.

LINK: Read the research

Columbia’s research team reached these numbers by studying transmission rates from mid-March through the beginning of May.

As states begin to reopen, they warn local leaders to respond quickly if they detect a spike in new cases.

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