We’ve all heard the phrases “social distancing” and “flattening the curve” a lot in the past few days. But when it comes to healthcare, how do those two principles actually help our hospitals and medical staff?
What is “Social Distancing”?
Public health professionals are no longer just encouraging social distancing to help reduce the spread of the COVID-19 virus. They’re now mandating it by closing restaurants, schools, and putting a cap on large gatherings.
Social Distancing practices as defined by the Ohio Department of Health are:
- Stay home and avoid contact with others. Do not go to work or school for these 14 days.
- Do not take public transportation, taxis, or ride-shares.
- Avoid crowded places and limit activities in public.
- Keep your distance from others (about 6 feet or 2 meters).
What is “The Curve”?
Ohio took drastic measures early in the hope that the sooner these steps were made, the sooner we could help slow the growth of the “curve.”
So what exactly is the curve? It refers to the projected number of people who will contract COVID-19 over a period of time.
The first and dramatic curve you see illustrated in these graphs shows the number of projected cases and time with no precautions taken. You can see the number of infections spikes hard and fast. The line drawn parallel to the x-axis of the graph illustrates our country’s healthcare capacity.
The first curve clearly shows without any precautions, our healthcare system will be overwhelmed and quickly, with cases skyrocketing within weeks. The second curve, which stays below that healthcare capacity line, is what the number of infections could look like over time with effective social distancing. This curve grows more slowly in the number of infected people, meaning less strain on our healthcare system and more time to react.
In a Washington Post article published on March 14, four simulations show how different variations of social distancing, ranging from ‘free-for-all’ to ‘extensive distancing,’ can genuinely affect the spread of the virus.
How does “flattening the curve” help our healthcare system?
One of the primary concerns with the spread of this virus is the stress placed on our healthcare system. Hospital staffing, supplies, equipment and available beds are all resources that will inevitably be strained.
Simply put: the more people we as a society can keep from getting the virus, the fewer people need hospitalization, the less the strain on our healthcare systems.
This is also critical so our hospitals can still provide emergency care for others in our community, like those needing care for stroke or a heart attack.
So, by practicing social distancing and helping to “flatten the curve,” we’re not only helping those most at risk for COVID-19 complications, we’re ensuring others in our community can get care when they need it most.