Carl Fichtenbaum, MD, UC Health infectious diseases subspecialist and professor in the Division of Infectious Diseases at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, said the phrase speaks to preventing the number of new cases from quickly rising.
“When you hear ‘flatten the curve,’ people are talking about preventing a huge influx of new COVID-19 cases,” said Dr. Fichtenbaum. “It is important to keep those numbers down. If we see a spike of cases happening all at once, then we can also see a number of severe illnesses develop at once, which will overload hospitals.”
Dr. Fichtenbaum said one key to flattening the curve is for people to practice social distancing.
What Is Social Distancing?
Canceling events, closing retail stores, schools and other public operations may sound drastic. However, there are advantages to doing this for people’s health.
“It’s all about minimizing the spread of a highly contagious virus,” said Dr. Fichtenbaum. “Social distancing is the concept of keeping away from people, and this typically means limiting contact with any other person. By slowing down the spread of COVID-19, we allow healthcare systems a chance to more readily care for patients.”
COVID-19 is a new virus, so healthcare experts continue to learn how it spreads. Currently, it is understood that the virus mainly spreads from person to person through respiratory droplets produced by an infected person who coughs or sneezes.
“If you have a pandemic, one strategy is to keep people away from each other so that the infection cannot be passed so easily from one person to another,” said Dr. Fichtenbaum. “Contagious diseases that are passed between persons usually are transmitted more easily when people are in close contact.”
Given the contagious nature of COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and Prevention suggests practicing social distancing by:
- Remaining out of areas where people gather together.
- Avoiding mass gatherings.
- Maintaining about 6 feet from others when possible.
Value of Social Distancing
“People ask a lot, ‘What can I do to help?’ The answer is simple: keep your distance,” said Dr. Fichtenbaum. “Social distancing is something everyone can do to contribute to the end of the COVID-19 pandemic. Again, this is a very contagious disease, so we want to make sure there is not a surplus of patients going into hospitals at the same time. This puts us at risk in running low on supplies.”
Healthcare experts want to ensure there is an adequate amount of supplies—such as gowns, masks, and ventilators—to help care for individuals who develop severe cases of COVID-19. Having necessary medical supplies also protects healthcare professionals so that they do not become ill while serving patients diagnosed with COVID-19.
Actions to Take
To help practice social distancing, Dr. Fichtenbaum suggests doing the following actions that allow you to still be engaged with family, friends, and coworkers:
- Keep in touch with family and friends with electronic devices.
- Work from home instead of at the office, if possible.
- Have large meetings over conference or video calls instead of in person.
The Social Distancing Scoreboard
Nationwide, people are following the current recommendation to practice social distancing from the World Health Organization and CDC. To understand how communities are doing, there is now a public interactive scoreboard that measures how well each state in the United States is practicing social distancing.
The interactive scoreboard pulls information from publicly accessible data from cellphone service providers. You can explore data from the scoreboard to see at a community level how social distancing compares before COVID-19.
“The goal behind social distancing is to make sure that COVID-19 will not rapidly spread, so we will lessen the danger of the pandemic for all of us,” said Dr. Fichtenbaum. “Ultimately, this is about saving lives.”