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Cartoon finger pointing down on a curve to flatten it, with a cartoon covid-19 virus underneath.

May 6, 2020 • read

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Flattening the curve — how to do your part

Instructions from public health leaders are clear — stay inside.

Workplaces across the country are closed, and for the most part, so are Canada’s borders. You can even receive criminal charges for not following self-quarantine rules after travelling. These measures are all part of an effort to “flatten the curve,” meaning they help slow the spread of COVID-19 from person to person. Here’s how that works, and what you can do to help stop the spread.

Why is COVID-19 spreading so fast?

To understand flattening the curve, you first need to understand what makes COVID-19 so easy to catch. There have been over 170,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Canada so far.  That’s because the virus has characteristics that make it easy for it to spread in a very short amount of time. There are several factors that make this true:

  • We know from SARS and MERS, two other similar viruses, that COVID-19 lives on surfaces like countertops and doorknobs for days. This means surfaces in busy public spaces are high risk for being contaminated,
  • It’s possible to be a carrier of COVID-19 and be asymptomatic, which means you’re not showing any symptoms. Even if you don’t feel sick, you could unknowingly pass the virus along to someone else. 
  • People over 60, and people who are immuno-compromised, are at high risk for getting sick and not recovering. This can force sick people to leave their home for medical attention, which increases the risk they could transmit the virus. 
  • We travel — a lot! Because we’re all so interconnected, COVID-19 has been able to move around the world at unprecedented speed. That’s why public health agencies and airlines across the globe are putting measures in place to keep everyone safe. We’re doing that too.

What does “flattening the curve” mean?

The curve represents how fast the number of people with COVID-19 is likely to increase, versus the capacity hospitals have to treat them. Naturally, the faster that people catch the virus, the more people will need medical attention. For some, this means staying in the hospital for a number of days. The spike in sick people means hospitals will be inundated with new admissions, which makes it difficult for everyone to get adequate care. 

When we talk about flattening the curve, we’re talking about slowing down how many people get sick at one time. That way we can make sure people in our communities who do need hospitalization will get the care they need, because resources like staff and beds won’t be exhausted. 

What can I do to flatten the curve?

Each individual has an essential role to play in flattening the curve. Here are a few ways that you can do your part:

1. If you have traveled recently, self-quarantine for 14 days.

That means staying home from work or school, and making as little contact as possible with anyone outside your home. You won’t be doing it alone. People across the country are doing it with you. Quarantine can feel isolating, but starting a new routine, keeping up with moderate exercise, and staying in contact with friends and family through social media and video calls can help. And there are lots of mental health supports available to you virtually.

2. Practice physical distancing.

This is similar to self-quarantine, but for people who haven’t necessarily been exposed to the virus. It’s important for healthy people to stay inside too! This helps ensure that they don’t become one of the new cases that spikes the curve. Physical distancing includes staying home from work, avoiding crowded places, and shifting gatherings like meetings to online. If you do go outside, keep six feet between you and other people in public, avoid unnecessary visits to elderly or immunosuppressed people, and cancel unneeded travel of any kind.

3. If you’re feeling ill, be sure to isolate yourself as much as possible.

Although not everyone who feels sick has necessarily contracted COVID-19, keeping isolated makes doubly sure that whatever you have doesn’t get passed along. It also ensures that you don’t contract anything because your immune system is under fire. Likewise, if you feel sick, avoid rushing to the hospital. This is a time where using tools like virtual care can save lives. Consult one of our doctors from home. They’ll be able to let you know if you need to see a doctor in-person, and can prescribe medicine to be delivered straight to your door.

Social distancing is an essential part of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Stay indoors when  possible, connect with friends online instead of in-person, and do your best to stay six feet away from other people when in public. And always, always wash your hands after touching surfaces in busy places! If you’ve contracted COVID-19 or suspect you’ve been exposed, self-isolation is essential. Ensure you’re in touch with a medical professional for support in monitoring your symptoms, and know that you’re doing your part in stopping the spread to other people. 

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