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Flattening the curve: doing your part & what that means

March 30, 2020 • read

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Flattening the curve: doing your part & what that means

Instructions from public health leaders are clear: stay inside.

Schools and workplaces across the country are closed, and for the most part, so are Canada’s borders. And some government officials are even starting to float the idea of 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 how you can make sure you’re doing all you can to 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. Many experts are predicting that it’s inevitable that a large number of Canadians will contract COVID-19.  That’s because the virus has characteristics that make it easy for it to spread in a very short amount of time. There a few 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 (not showing any symptoms). This means the virus could be living in your system, and even if you don’t feel sick, you could unknowingly pass it 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 again increases the risk that a person with a high amount of the virus in their system will pass it on to someone else. 
  • 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, and 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 medical attention from the hospital will get the care they need as soon as possible, 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:

  • 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. It can feel isolating to take part, 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.
  • Social 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. Social distancing looks like staying home from work, avoiding crowded places, and shifting gatherings like meetings to online. If you do go outside, it means keeping six feet between you and other people in public, avoiding unnecessary visits to elderly or immunosuppressed people, and cancelling unneeded travel of any kind, by car or plane.
  • 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, and 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 telehealth can save lives. Consult a Maple doctor from home. They’ll be able to let you know if you need to see a professional in person, and can prescribe medicine that will be delivered straight to your door if you don’t need in-person care. In Ontario, we offer free screening for COVID-19. It’s covered by OHIP, so all you have to focus on is recovery. Similarly, in BC you can access our services through MSP with your BC Services Card.

Social distancing is an essential part of slowing the spread of COVID-19. Stay indoors where possible, connect with friends online instead of in person (even if nobody is symptomatic), and if you’re in public, do your best to stay six feet away from the people around you. And always, always wash your hands after touching surfaces in busy places! If you’ve contracted coronavirus 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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