Gostin said he did not buy the Chinese precedent as the only—or best—way forward.

“There’s very little evidence that these large lockdowns worked,” he said. “Japan and South Korea have not used them—and used traditional public health measures—and had dramatic drops in cases.”

Social separation, on the other hand, may not stop an epidemic, “but it flattens the curve and slows it down, which buys us time,” said Gostin, who noted that he expects Americans will likely see increased self-isolation at home in the coming of weeks, possibly into the millions.

“Quarantine and isolation is a social contract where citizens agree to stay separated from the community for the common good, and, in exchange, the government promises them that they will keep them safe with good healthcare and humane conditions,” he said. “I think citizens will comply, but I’m not sure if the government can hold up its end of the bargain.”