COVID-19 and Our Impact on its Spread

How our social behaviors can save lives

Julius Perez, Reporter

As media coverage on the global pandemic increases, terms like social distancing and “flatten the curve” have been thrown around on news networks and social media to describe the speed and spread of the coronavirus strain COVID-19. 

With so many different outlets of information readily available it is easy to get confused and interpret false ideas on what these terms mean and determine the necessary reactions to them. 

The phenomenon behind the phrase “flatten the curve” refers to a graph that tracks the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases in relation to time, usually using days.

A Graph to showcase what "flatten the curve" means
A slow pandemic is shown in green which is relatively mild and a fast pandemic is shown in red which puts tremendous strain on the medical resources in our country.

A steep, narrow curve is considered a bad scenario when it comes to pandemics. Each country, state and community has a healthcare capacity, which is the limit on the amounts of protective and medical equipment, hospital beds and medical staff available.It’s represented as a straight, horizontal line. Being under the line means that the number of cases is less than the amount of healthcare attention that the hospitals can provide and most people are able to receive the medical attention they need. 

When the number of cases exceeds the healthcare capacity, the mortality rate of COVID-19, which is thought to be between 1 and 9 percent, becomes much higher as people who have contracted the disease are left untreated due to overwhelmed medical staff and scarcity of life-saving equipment, such as ventilators. In a fast pandemic like this, drastic decisions, such as who deserves to receive life-saving care and who doesn’t, will have to be made. 

To look at patients, at their loved ones, and tell them you have to deny them life-saving care and can only offer comfort, care to ease the pain of their inevitable death because because they don’t meet the criteria for access to limited equipment would be horrifying,” said Eva Macaluso, who teaches the dual credit nursing skills practicum program and is a registered nurse. 

The limited number doctors and nurses will also be overwhelmed due to the influx of patients and lack of rooms and equipment to treat them. Also a lack of PPE or personal protective equipment, such as masks and suits, will cause healthcare workers to be more likely to contract the virus themselves, effectively lowering the healthcare capacity. 

All healthcare workers right now are at increased risk of becoming ill. But they are still showing up and trying to provide the best care possible while lacking the most basic protective equipment. They are doing this while they are exhausted, stressed, overwhelmed. All of these things have the unwelcome side effect of weakening their own immune systems, statistically increasing their own chances of becoming infected too,” Macaluso said.

When experts say “flatten the curve”, they are discussing the necessary decrease in the rate at which the virus spreads so the number of cases always stays below the healthcare capacity and needless deaths won’t have to occur.

According to Our World in Data, countries like China and South Korea have already achieved this and are on the way out of the crisis. On April 1, China reported 54 new confirmed cases and South Korea reported zero. This, compared to the United States’ 24,998 new confirmed cases reported just on April 1, shows that pandemic control measures in these countries were successful. 

When you compare the United States to other economically similar countries who don’t routinely de-fund or inhibit access to medical research and care, you see that we are already in the nascent stages of this pandemic trying not to run out of basic supplies and have the ability to do things as simple as be able to actually test people to see if they are ill, and these other countries are managing to keep their infection numbers incredibly low while being able to provide necessary preventative and active treatment care to everyone,” Macaluso said.

The United States and other countries in the thick of this pandemic can implement specific orders to flatten out the curve and control the spread of the virus. 

According to COVID Act Now, a website of viral spread projections in the U.S. backed by multiple Ivy League professors and PhDs, social distancing will not be enough. In Texas, the estimated projection of the effects of using three months of social distancing will still see a drastic increase in infection cases, and hospitals will become overwhelmed by April 29. Without social distancing, that day comes much sooner.

Only with methods, such as three months shelter in place, where everyone who is nonessential to the functioning of society stays home and only goes out for absolute necessities, and three months of complete lockdown do not see an overshoot happening.

“At a time like this I think that every single staff member still showing up every day to the riskiest place possible in terms of infection, doing their jobs and keeping the hospital machine as safe and effective as possible, for what is honestly not great hourly pay at most facilities, every one of them is the most important person in that hospital,” Macaluso said.We wouldn’t be able to care for anyone without the army of people behind us making sure everything is exactly what and where it needs to be.”