Why it’s crucial to ‘flatten the curve’ of coronavirus
The time to act is now, say experts
THE NUMBER OF cases of coronavirus in Massachusetts hit 92 yesterday. And in a state of almost 7 million residents that’s cause to declare a state of emergency?
Some may wonder whether the alarms being sounded are going overboard. That evidently includes some South Boston business owners complaining about all the money they won’t make this Sunday because the city has cancelled the annual St. Patrick’s Day parade there.
Mayor Marty Walsh pushed back on any idea that the city is overreacting. “I hope it’s being blown out of proportion,” he told Globe columnist Adrian Walker. “I hope I can stand here in three weeks and say it was blown out of proportion, and we did all this preparation for nothing.”
But if the region avoids a massive surge in coronavirus cases, public health experts say it won’t be proof of how unnecessary the sweeping response was but rather how effective it was.
That’s what has happened in Italy. The country has gone over the span of less than a month from having 3 cases to 10,000, with 631 deaths.
A week ago, an infectious disease physician in Lodi, in northern Italy, said the virus hit his hospital “like a tsunami.” The country’s health care infrastructure, particular in northern Italy where the greatest number of cases are clustered, is being strained to the breaking point, with life-sustaining ventilators now viewed “like gold,” according to one doctor whose Facebook post about the crisis has gone, well, viral.
What public health authorities in Massachusetts and throughout the US are trying to do is prevent that from happening here.
“The purpose of moving forward with these measures now is to act before the numbers increase to a point where the virus spread is severely impacting the Commonwealth,” Gov. Charlie Baker said yesterday in announcing the state of emergency. “The highly contagious nature of this disease means that if everyone plays their part in slowing its spread, the number of people who become infected and require medical attention doesn’t spike all at once, which would overwhelm many of our systems.”
The public health goal, in epidemiological terms, is “flattening the curve.” As this Vox piece shows, along with trying to minimize the total number of cases, it’s critical to slow the speed at which the number of cases grows. What’s crucial is to not have the graph line plotting active cases move above a level that marks the health care system’s maximum capacity to care for critically ill patients.That helps explain things like the closure of college campuses in the state. Students are unlikely to face serious consequences if they contract coronavirus, but they will be vectors for its spread.
“The more young and healthy people are sick at the same time, the more old people will be sick, and the more pressure there will be on the health care system,” Emily Landon, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Chicago, told Vox. “That means my mom and your mom will have a hospital bed if they need it.”