What is “flattening the curve” and how does social distancing help?
“Flattening the curve” is an expression used to explain how slowing the exponential growth in a disease’s spread can allow a country’s health system to better cope with the surge in cases so that it isn’t overwhelmed.
While the novel coronavirus pandemic might eventually infect a majority of people in the United States, the speed at which the outbreak spreads makes a huge difference in health outcomes. What epidemiologists fear is that the U.S. health system would become overwhelmed by a sudden surge that requires more people to be hospitalized than can be handled, both from a personnel and equipment standpoint. In a scenario of uncontrolled growth, more people would die simply because there might not be enough doctors, nurses, hospital beds or ventilators for people who need them.
“If you look at the curves of outbreaks, they go big peaks, and then come down. What we need to do is flatten that down,” said Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.
Flattening the curve means that the social distancing measures being deployed in places like Italy and South Korea and now in the United States aren’t so much about preventing illness but rather slowing down the rate at which people get sick, according to Vox.
Without any measures to slow it down, COVID-19 will spread exponentially for months. An interactive simulation by the Washington Post shows how the spread can be slowed by use of “social distancing,” avoiding public spaces and large group gatherings that can increase the rapid spread of COVID-19.
Janet Moore contributed to this report. This article also includes information from the Washington Post and Associated Press.