What It Means to Flatten the Curve of COVID-19

With the outbreak and spread of COVID-19, we have seen measures undertaken that are unprecedented in our lifetime, to limit its impact. These measures are, in large part, aimed at “flattening the curve”. Most have rallied around these efforts, but it may be difficult to adjust to these extreme measures without understanding what it really means. So, let’s talk about “flattening the curve”, what that means, and how we can all help.

What is “flattening the curve”?

Look at the graph below. The vertical axis represents number of COVID-19 infections and the horizontal axis represents time.

Flattening the curve refers to the blunting effect of distributing a set number of infections over a relatively greater period time (the cases represented in gold). By doing so, we are less likely to overwhelm the capacity of healthcare systems. With a stricter adherence to protective measures, we will likely see fewer cases overall. However, if we see the same number of cases (or even a greater number) over a more extended timeline, we are better able to manage these cases.

Why is it important to “flatten the curve”?

  • “Buying time” allows us to ramp up production and stockpile other supplies, learn more about the disease, and prepare a more robust response.
  • We also buy more time to develop vaccines and other medications, which may provide more definitive treatment to those who become critically ill or are at increased risk.
  • We are less likely to run out of staffed hospital beds and supplies, such as ventilators, supplies and medications.
  • Some viruses, such as influenza, tend to die off on their own, when warm weather arrives. While it remains unclear if this will be the case with COVID-19, flattening the curve will slow transmission until warm weather arrives.

It is simply in our best interest, as a society, to flatten the curve, even for those who are not at increased risk. After all, we all have loved ones who are at increased risk. Additionally, if we surpass the capacity of our healthcare system, anyone who may be in need of care, for any reason, could be negatively impacted by the lack of available resources.

Who is at increased risk from COVID-19?

Some people are at an increased risk from COVID-19, including:

  • those who are 65 years of age or older.
  • those who have chronic disease processes affecting their respiratory system.
  • anyone who is immunocompromised.
  • those suffering from chronic conditions such as diabetes or heart disease.
  • those who are pregnant.

What can we do to help flatten the curve?

In general, any steps taken to help prevent transmission of COVID-19 will help us flatten the curve. Remember, any of us could be carrying the virus and potentially transmitting to others for 2-14 days prior to an onset of symptoms. Therefore, we need to be proactive.

Stay home and self-isolate as much as possible now.

Encourage those who may be at increased risk to limit any contact with others as much as possible.

Watch for symptoms of COVID-19.

If you begin to exhibit symptoms (fever of 100.4 or greater, cough, shortness of breath), remain at home and contact your doctor, who will advise you on appropriate measures individual to your specific circumstances. If you believe it to be an emergency, call 911. Dispatchers should be questioning you about the presence of these symptoms as they discuss the nature of your call. Regardless of your answers, EMS will respond.

Consider those experiencing social isolation.

Those who have undertaken extreme social distancing measures (especially the elderly and/or infirm) may be at risk of social isolation and could be experiencing a lack of food and other resources. We need to tend to those in our communities who find themselves in this situation. This enables them to continue with social distancing safely and in some degree of comfort. This could include calling them, offering to drop of food, medication, and supplies, etc. Just be sure to avoid close contact.

Maintain good hygiene.

Cough into your elbow. Wash your hands frequently and thoroughly (at least 20 seconds). Try to keep hand sanitizer available for when soap and water may not be practical. Clean frequently touched surfaces (counters, tables, doorknobs, phones, etc.) daily.

Limit additional or unnecessary trips out.

This is especially important for places where you might come into close contact with others. Bulk purchasing (within reason) may be appropriate to accomplish this.

Maintain a distance of six feet from others as much as possible.

Avoid groups and avoid handshakes and hugging.

When you take these proactive measures to “flatten the curve,” you help support your local healthcare professionals who are doing their best to manage their response to this threat. And for that, we thank you!

Our Emergency Department and ICU nurses recently asked members of the community to stay home through the Facebook post, copied below.


Stay up-to-date with COVID-10 updates and resources.

Go to ProMedica’s Resource Center

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