Health experts say it’s crucial to “flatten the curve” of coronavirus transmissions to keep hospitals from being overwhelmed with critically ill patients. Flattening the curve might prolong the pandemic, scientists say, but fewer people would die because they would receive better medical treatment.
- “Flattening the curve” refers to slowing the speed of the pandemic’s spread.
The goal is to prevent huge numbers of people from becoming seriously ill at the same time and then overwhelming the available hospital beds, ventilators and other tools needed to treat them. “If you look at the curves of outbreaks, you know, they go up big peaks, and then they come down,” says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases. “What we need to do is flatten that down” by spreading the incidents of infection over a longer time.
- The best way to flatten the curve is to prevent large gatherings of people, which are the easiest pathway for viruses to spread quickly.
Doctors urge people to practice “social distancing” or “physical distancing” to slow the virus’ spread. Because the virus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets (especially when people cough or sneeze), maintaining safe distances from others is vital.
- A steep spike in coronavirus cases, rather than a flatter curve, can overwhelm hospitals.
Even with industries working hard to produce needed equipment, hospitals have a limited number of beds, ventilators, doctors, nurses and other resources. When thousands of people get seriously ill at the same time, these resources are overwhelmed, and some victims cannot be treated. Italy has suffered the most, perhaps, but even a New York City hospital has seen patient beds lining the emergency department’s hallways, and the morgue overflowing.
- A flatter curve sends fewer patients to hospitals all at once, spreading their arrivals over a longer period.
A flatter curve of infections could prolong the epidemic, scientists say. But that’s a worthy trade-off because it would help hospitals meet patients’ needs as they arrive. This should result in better treatments and fewer deaths, the experts say.
- South Korea did a good job of flattening the coronavirus curve.
Epidemiologists say South Korea saved lives by working fast to flatten the curve on viral spread. Key steps were: acting swiftly; testing widely and safely; tracing and isolating people who had come in contact with sick persons; and building widespread public support for the necessary hardships.