Don’t go cold turkey — at least not when it comes to easing lockdown restrictions.

That’s the message of a new study that uses mathematical modeling to show that governments shouldn’t just turn off lockdown measures all at once for everyone, after infection rates have slowed, unless they want to risk a spike in coronavirus cases that threatens to overwhelm their health care system.

“Decision makers — pay attention to the math: emerging from lockdowns requires a gradual and phased approach to keep infection under control,” said Michael Bonsall from the Mathematical Ecology Research group at the University of Oxford, who helped lead the study team.

“Without this attention, you run the risk of burdening health systems with further waves of infection,” Bonsall said.

The study, published Wednesday in the journal Frontiers in Public Health, compared simply ending restrictions for everyone all at once to a more gradual approach. The goal was to allow the greatest number of people to return to work while — critically — keeping the rate of new infections low enough so as not to overwhelm the health care system.

The results show that the optimal strategy would be to release about half of the population two to four weeks after the end of infection peak while keeping as much social distancing as possible, and then wait another three to four months — to let a possible second peak pass — before releasing the second group. Widespread testing would also have to take place, to monitor infection rates and how well the disease is controlled.

Medical reference: CNN Health