This video of mousetraps and ping-pong balls makes crystal clear why social distancing works



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By: Alex Horton and Lenny Bernstein
Date: April 10, 2020

A video from the Ohio Department of Health shows a minefield of mousetraps and table tennis balls, row upon row, that turn into a predictable maelstrom of flying debris once a bouncing ball tumbles into view.

It’s also a metaphor for the menacing spread of the coronavirus, where just one person interacting with others can produce a chain reaction of devastating consequences.

The Ohio Department of Health on April 9 released a coronavirus video advocating for social distancing. The ad has since gone viral. (Ohio Department of Health)

The video is among the clearest visualizations yet of how proximity can turn lethal — and, conversely, how isolation can turn the tide.

In the second half of the video, the traps are spaced at greater distances as a table tennis ball bounces across the floor without triggering any hazards.

Ohio has been one of the relative bright spots in the United States during the pandemic, with signs pointing to early measures as a reason.

Ohio’s Republican governor, Mike DeWine, shut down a fitness expo in Columbus on March 4, just as President Trump downplayed the impact of the virus in the country. And even earlier, the Cleveland Clinic braced for a surge in hospitalizations.

The early action may have bought time. Ohio had about 5,100 infections as of Thursday, fewer than a third of the cases in similarly sized Michigan, Pennsylvania and Illinois, with just a small fraction of the deaths reported in those nearby states.

The Cleveland Clinic, which eventually beefed up plans to expand from 3,200 beds to 8,000 should the worst occur, held just 150 covid-19 patients (along with 2,000 others) this week and is preparing to scale back some facilities. It is moving to lend medical personnel to cities such as Detroit and New York hit hard by the virus.

“You’ve got to make these decisions early. Early means early,” DeWine told The Washington Post. “Every day you wait, you create a bigger problem.”

With the pandemic still spreading and case counts rising, it’s too early for certainty on whether Ohio’s actions have spared it the worst of the virus’s impact. Experts caution that infectious-disease outbreaks never move smoothly through a population.

They arise opportunistically: A party here or church service there can produce an explosion of infections that quickly puts public health officials behind the disease curve. There is no way to account for luck, good or bad.

A case in Chicago demonstrates that grim acceleration. At two events in February — a funeral and a birthday party — one person with covid-19 sliced through unwitting friends and family members, leaving at least 16 people infected and at least three dead.

Credit: The Washington Post