The world is dealing with a global pandemic the likes of which we haven’t seen since the deadly flu pandemic in 1918 and 1919. With the rapid onset of the novel coronavirus dubbed coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), schools, businesses, and houses of worship have had to make tough decisions to help slow the spread of the virus. In order to do this, infectious disease and health experts emphasize that flattening the curve is essential. Flattening the curve means reducing the amount of new cases per day in order to avoid overwhelming healthcare systems. This can be achieved through social distancing, wearing masks, and increased personal hygiene like frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your face.
After weeks of quarantine and social distancing measures in cities and countries across the world, some people believe that we might have begun approaching the other side of the curve. However, health and infectious disease experts and top officials caution the relaxation of social distancing practices and reopening states and cities; the former believe that it’s still too soon.
What does the other side of the curve look like, and how soon might we begin to reach it? How can people at home continue to assist in slowing the spread of COVID-19? Here is more about what the other side of the curve is and how you can help us get there:
Understanding how flattening the curve helps.
Many people are aware that the main goal of health-care professionals and many government officials in getting back to normal involves flattening the curve of the virus. Outbreaks without social distancing measures follow a pattern of infection, with few cases at first, then a huge peak that exponentially rises before falling off just as quickly afterwards. The problem is that with a rapid increase of cases, healthcare systems are incapable of dealing with the influx of patients in need of significant care. Because of the risk that COVID-19 has to cause severe breathing issues, some patients will eventually need a ventilator to keep them alive. When healthcare systems are overcrowded, the reality is that less people who require ventilators will be able to get them and likely die.
Flattening the curve does not necessarily prevent as many people from contracting the virus; most experts expect the same number of overall cases to occur. The difference is that they happen across a longer period of time with a flattened curve, allowing our healthcare systems to prepare, obtain necessary supplies, and develop tests and vaccines where possible. We achieve that flattening by implementing social distancing procedures, just as many areas did during the lethal 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic.
Nonessential businesses remain closed and others offer curbside services, schools have moved lessons online, and large gatherings of people are prohibited. Because COVID-19 can infect others through respiratory droplets and you can be contagious without showing symptoms, wearing masks, washing your hands frequently, and staying six feet apart from other people can help slow its spread.
What happens on the other side of the curve?
There are many people that feel restrictions should be relaxed now that some cities appear to have past peak infection rates. However, leading experts are concerned about overconfidence in this. If we remove these preventative measures too soon, disease researchers warn that a second wave of infections is inevitable. Additionally, those new cases have the potential to be worse than before and further overwhelm healthcare systems. It’s important to wait in order to allow the curve to come down and flatten out more on the other side of the peak before lifting restrictions. We can learn from our history by looking at past pandemics. While there is always contention between the public health and the local economy, history shows that lifting restrictions too soon leads to another infection peak.
Some states and cities seem to be heading in the right direction, with the number of confirmed cases getting lower or remaining stagnant. In these areas, it’s important for officials, healthcare professionals, and researchers to plan for what comes next. For many places, this includes beginning or increasing antibody testing, particularly of healthcare and essential workers who have been regularly exposed to the virus. Expanding diagnostic testing, preparing for future surges, and creating a resource of plasma from donations by those showing good antibody response are a few of the next steps being taken around the world. None of these will enable an immediate return to a normal way of life, but disease experts urge that they are among the ones that we need. Knowing who has been exposed, who is immune, and which individuals are carriers can help researchers and scientists to better understand COVID-19.
The future is still undetermined.
Without crucial knowledge and research, it is hard to determine when it will be safe to begin returning to life as usual. Moreover, many people wonder if we are looking at a preview of the new normal as businesses continue to require masks and social distancing measures remain in place For now, it looks like we will continue to wait.