By Abbie Cornett
In recent weeks, you have probably heard the terms "flattening the curve" and "social distancing" in relation to COVID-19 more often than you would like. Unfortunately, many people don't understand what the terms mean, or why they are so important to public health in the United States.
In the case of COVID-19, flattening the curve means slowing the spread of the virus. The curve refers to the projected number of people who will contract the disease over a period of time. The more people infected in a short period of time, the steeper the curve is. If the number of people infected at one time is slowed down, the curve will be flattened.
Flattening the curve is vital to maintaining our healthcare systems. If the curve (rate of infection) is too steep, local healthcare systems run the risk of being overloaded like they have been in other countries.
Italy is a tragic example of what can happen if the growth rate of the virus is not slowed down. The rapid growth of infected patients filled some hospitals to capacity, forcing emergency rooms to close their doors to new patients, hire hundreds of new doctors and request emergency supplies of basic medical equipment, like respirator masks, from abroad.1 This lack of resources contributed, in part, to death rates from the virus almost double the global average.
In an effort to flatten the curve, many countries, including the United States, have implemented "social-distancing" and "shelter-in-place" strategies. Social distancing is deliberately increasing the physical space between people to avoid spreading illness. Staying at least six feet away from other people reduces the chances of catching COVID-19.2
Social distancing can be accomplished by working from home, attending school online and communicating with friends and relatives via electronic methods such as Skype or FaceTime.
Sheltering in place is self-explanatory. It means staying at home — Only leaving for necessary reasons such as food and medical care!
Flattening the curve doesn't necessarily mean the above measures will protect people from getting sick, but it will save lives by reducing the strain on our already overburdened medical system.
1. Spector, B. Coronavirus: What Is 'Flattening the Curve,' and Will It Work. Live Science, March 16, 2020.
Accessed at https://www.livescience.com/coronavirus-flatten-the-curve.html.
2. Lockerd Maragakis, L. Coronavirus, Social and Physical Distancing and Self-Quarantine. John Hopkins Medicine, March 31, 2020.
Accessed at https://www.hopkinsmedicine.org/health/conditions-and-diseases/coronavirus/coronavirus-social-distancing-and-self-quarantine.