All over the news there is discussions going on about trying to ‘flatten the curve’. There’s usually a graph that accompanies this as well (see image). For many, it’s confusing, so let’s break it down.

CDC Flatten the Curve

The red area shows how the number of cases increase dramatically in a short period of time if there are no protective measures put into place. The blue area shows that while the same number of cases might occur over a longer period of time, they don’t have a huge increase all at once. This is the key.

Our healthcare system’s capacity can not handle having a surge in cases that would happen if there are no protective measures. If the surge of patients happens, then the hospitals would become overcrowded and place a demand on the resources like we’ve never seen before. This would mean that there would be shortages of space, personnel and equipment. These shortages mean that many people would die because there isn’t a way to take care of everyone. It also means that the medical staff would have to prioritize who gets treatment versus those who don’t. This is the exact scenario we’re seeing play out in Italy.

However, if we put in place the protective measures, the shortages are much less of concern and this significantly increases the likelihood of everyone being able to get treatment. There are several measures that can help do this. The first is frequent, proper handwashing (see our Handwashing article). The next is to practice social distancing (see our Social Distancing article). Another thing is to make sure that supplies are getting to where they’re needed most. This is done by increasing production by encouraging companies to convert their manufacturing plants from what they normally produce to making the needed supplies. While this is taking place, it’s essential that the supplies we have get to where they need to go, like hospitals. If we follow these steps, then we will be able to flatten the curve.