Flattening the Curve during the COVID-19 pandemic

The Governor of Montana announced late yesterday afternoon that schools throughout the state would be closed until March 27th — a 14-day closure — to slow the spread of COVID-19. I realize we’re in the middle of a pandemic, but “Flattening the Curve”, as they call it in the public health circles, is only going to prolong the pandemic. Let me show you what I mean.

Here is a sketch I put together to show what public health officials are thinking and why they are doing some of the “extreme” things they’re doing. We’re going to talk about Mabel. As you can see, Mabel is a 78yo female with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) and asthma. She’s at high risk of catching COVID-19, right? So if Mabel comes down with a case of COVID-19 where the “X” is marked on the green curve, her chances of getting the care she needs would theoretically be less because the number of cases is so high that it’s impossible for the hospitals and the healthcare system in general to adequately treat that many people at once. They would simply be overwhelmed! “Flattening the Curve”, however, would lead to a situation where, if Mabel got sick with COVID-19 where the “X” is marked on the yellow curve, not as many others would be sick and the healthcare system and hospitals may be able to offer more adequate care because they are dealing with fewer cases at one time.

A few things to note here, though. You may have already noticed these points, but they’re worth going over for reality’s sake. In either case, Mabel is likely going to get COVID-19. Her chances of survival are better if we all follow the guidelines and directives, however inconvenient, scary, and financially destabilizing they may be, than if we don’t. The second point is that the pandemic is going to last longer if we flatten the curve. You will see that the yellow shaded area is that area of the “Flattened Curve” extends beyond where the green curve ends. You interpreted that correctly to mean that, though we won’t have as many cases at once, we will still have the cases — the disease will run its course. All we can do is sacrifice more time for it to run its course in order to prevent the hospitals and the healthcare system from collapsing by “Flattening the Curve”. We do this for Mabel’s sake. You may be Mabel. I know that you must know Mabel if you aren’t her yourself. We do this for the sake of the healthcare workers, who are human and are being fully and willingly exposed to COVID-19 for our sakes, should we come down with a serious case of the disease and need help. Remember that they are just as susceptible to this disease as anybody else is, and that we have an aging population of healthcare workers, which makes them even more susceptible than you and I are, perhaps. We do this for each other, as well as ourselves. This is a difficult time, but we will get through it. We have had many pandemics in the past, and yes, people die. That is the nature of things. We must consider how we can help each other through this, though, to prevent as many deaths and as much serious illness as we can. We do that by considering others as well as ourselves. So ponder this. And be considerate of those around you while taking care of yourself. Please.

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