With vaccines slowly being rolled out across the United States, it appears the nation may be close to a turning point in the coronavirus pandemic. However, the daily case rate remains high, and new, highly contagious variants threaten to create clusters of fresh infections in the coming months. This makes it more important than ever that states bolster non-vaccine strategies — specifically, supported quarantine and isolation — in order to mitigate viral transmission.
Apart from vaccinations, quarantine (keeping exposed people away from others) and isolation (keeping sick people away from others) are the best ways to stop transmission of the virus. After a surge of infections early in the pandemic, South Korea adopted an aggressive policy of testing, contact tracing, and “supported” isolation and quarantine. This included identifying those exposed to the virus and providing support services so that it was feasible and affordable for them to stay apart for seven to 10 days. The government delivered grocery supplies and paid financial compensation to those in isolation and unable to work. They provided people who needed it access to quarantine facilities, with twice-daily check-ins to monitor their health.
The results have been spectacular. While the United States recently passed 500,000 COVID-19 deaths, South Korea — one-sixth of the US population — has experienced just 1,600 fatalities, without a single vaccination. Schools have mostly stayed open, and the South Korean economy has remained largely intact. If the United States had the same death rate as South Korea, we would have lost 10,000 Americans rather than over half a million.