By now, most of us have probably heard of the phrase, “flattening the curve.” But what exactly is the curve, and why do we need to flatten it? Most importantly, how can we flatten it?
The graph of a flattened curve versus one that is exponential has been floating around the internet for around a week now. But what exactly does it mean? The origin or beginning of the graph is the moment the first person in a country is infected. From there, the number of cases will increase according the measures the country takes to slow the growth of the disease. In truth, the number of people who get infected will still be frighteningly large, with or without preventive measures. The difference between the orange curve and the blue curve is the rate of the cases, the number of people who need to be treated everyday.
In the orange curve, the people who need treatment far exceeds the country’s healthcare system capacity. We saw what this looks like in Italy. The number of cases as well as fatalities in Italy have been skyrocketing, in part because some citizens have not been practicing social distancing, and because before everyone knew it, the virus had already been circulating around the country undetected. By the time everyone realized it, there were not enough test kits or other resources to accomadate those who may have contracted it and those who needed immediate treatment. Italy’s hospitals were overwhelmed, and the death count continued to rise. I know the situation sounds dire and impossibly scary, but there is a way that we, as normal citizens, can fight it. By staying home. (Source: Time)
One country that has been able to flatten the curve is South Korea. A few weeks ago, the number of cases in South Korea were increasing exponentially. Suddenly, the number dropped. Unlike China, South Korea doesn’t have as tight of a hold on its citizens, yet it was still able to quickly grasp the situation and control it. The first thing the South Korean government did to control the virus was interfere quickly. As soon as the first case was diagnosed in late January, the government had companies mass producing coronavirus test kits. As the country’s confirmed cases rose, there were enough testing kits to get an accurate sense of the rate of infection and the number of cases. In many countries like the United States, the number of confirmed cases rise, but those numbers don’t completely dictate the spread of cases, merely the number of testing kits that are available.
The current problem with Italy and the U.S. is simply the lack of testing kits. This leads to an inaccurate assessment of the severity of the situation. What may be a dozen cases may actual be a hundred undetected cases. South Korea, however, tested more people for coronavirus than any other country. 600 testing centers were oened, 50 drive-through opened, all involving a quick ten minute process and test results within hours. The process was also ensured to involve minimal contact. There were also high volumes of public pressure for South Koreans to get tested, leading to high percentages of participation from the country’s citizens.
South Korea also quickly developed new technology for citizens to track cases in their area. The infected patient’s past movements were scrutinized: from which buses they took to which stores they walked on. Those who needed to be self-quarantined were fined if they ignored the precautions.
I guess the question now is… Can we be like South Korea and flatten the curve? If there’s anything I’ve learned about how South Korea handled the situation, it’s that the citizens play the biggest role in preventing the spread of the virus. Although there are some things we can’t control like the number of testing centers and testing kits, self-isolation is becoming the name of the game. These days, everyone is used to having control over everything in their lives: where they go, what they can do, and who they can talk to. Yet now, the best way to maintain control over the situation is by doing… nothing.
Take the 2020 Census Bureau to inform the decisions the government needs to make
Time: Why is Italy’s Coronavirus Outbreak So Bad?
New York Times: How South Korea Flattened The Curve
ABC News: What US Can Learn From Italy About Responding To Coronavirus