• Marion Bishop

Flattening the curve

Flattening the coronavirus curve is not just important for hospitals and sick relatives.

I am an ER doctor. On 11 March, when I saw this graph, designed by Drew Harris—a population health analyst at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia—in the New York Times, I was relieved. Someone had rendered a complex concept into a visual form that was easy to grasp. Data that epidemiologists and statisticians work with every day had been simplified into shorthand the rest of us could use.

Ordinary people and governments got to work doing what they could to flatten the curve. As an ER doctor, I am incredibly grateful for every effort and sacrifice made. Every person who stays at home and child who does not go to school, translates into fewer people in the Emergency Room, fewer ventilators needed, and more time to complete research for vaccines and drugs to combat Covid-19.

But something larger is also at stake. This enormous sacrifice—school closures, lost paychecks, limited human contact—is not just to make the jobs of doctors easier (although I am grateful for that!), and to save the lives of our medically fragile family members. It is a necessary effort to keep our whole country going.

In coming months, many of us will become ill. For most of us, Covid-19 will be a mild to moderate disease. But if everyone becomes mildly to moderately ill at the same time, it can be catastrophic for our communities. Power companies need enough healthy technicians to keep our gas and electricity flowing. Grocery stores will be forced to close if all employees are sick at the same time. And police officers and firefighters cannot do their jobs if precincts and engine houses fall empty.

Flattening the curve means keeping enough truckers, bank tellers, farmers, and garage collectors healthy at any given time so that our countries can continue functioning. It means letting the wave of illness move through our communities slowly, so that we can take turns at being ill and at being well.

There is no doubt that staying at home and flattening the curve requires sacrifice, for some—especially those who are going without a paycheck—more than others. (My deepest for my country is that adequate governmental aid is coming, soon). But the act of remaining housebound is not just something we are doing for medical professionals, immunocompromised individuals, and another select few. It is something we are doing for all of us. Both metaphorically and literally, it is the only way to keep the lights on.

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