In the United States, COVID-19 cases top 120,000—now the most of any country in the world—and deaths surpass 2,000. Many states are acting to contain viral spread through mass closures of businesses and orders to stay inside the home. However, in the absence of a national-level order, such measures are not uniform across the whole country, and Americans can still travel from one area to another—potentially carrying COVID-19 from “hot zones” such as New York and Seattle to low-risk areas.
Contrast that with China, once the epicenter of COVID-19 (the novel coronavirus disease), which on March 19 reported no new locally transmitted cases of the disease for the first time since the onset of the pandemic. Just a month ago, thousands of new cases were appearing in mainland China each day, and China’s Hubei province was considered the highest COVID-19 transmission zone on the planet. China’s success is the result of aggressive, far-reaching measures: About 60 million people were locked down in the cordon sanitaire, during which movement was restricted in and out of Wuhan and the larger Hubei province. Many people infected with or exposed to COVID-19 in these same areas were forcibly removed from the population and put into isolation centers for weeks. Public transportation was shut down. Armed guards, citizen informers, and high-tech surveillance helped ensure compliance with mass quarantines. The trade-off, of course, was between containing a fast-moving novel virus and wholesale violation of personal freedoms, including movement and privacy.