Flattening the coronavirus curve: what is it and why is it important?

The coronavirus (COVID-19) has arrived to change our lives, or at least our lives as we knew them. Closed bars, restaurants and stores have left us with images of half-deserted city streets and towns. The objective? To reduce the spread and contagion of the virus as much as possible.

Surely in the last few days you have heard about the need to slow down the epidemic curve, but… do you know exactly what it consists of? The curve represents the evolution of the number of cases spread over a specific period of time.

So, first of all, a line representing the number of cases as a function of time would be drawn on the graph. In countries such as Italy or Spain, at the moment that line is quite high and vertical, as the number of cases is growing at a high rate in recent days. A horizontal line would then be drawn to mark the capacity of hospitals to handle and manage the number of cases. If the peak of the number of cases exceeds the horizontal line, we are facing a collapse of the healthcare system.

In this way, the aim is that the first line is not so vertical, but draws a kind of mountain with a more flattened base, which would mean that its duration would be extended over time but at levels that are acceptable for the health system.

The idea of flattening the curve is therefore a way of dealing with logistical problems rather than preventing the spread of the virus. The main objective is to slow down the rate of virus infection so that the number of infected persons does not exceed the capacity of the public health system to cope with it.

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At the moment when the peak or highest point of the curve is reached, it should be expected that the curve will stop growing and begin to fall. The objective of the epidemic curve is, therefore, to detect the problem as soon as possible in order to prevent the highest point of the curve from becoming too high.

Measures to slow down the coronavirus curve

In order to help flatten the epidemic curve, the competent authorities have announced a series of measures and guidelines to try to slow down the rate of infection. These include the following:

  • Avoid leaving home as much as possible.
  • Avoid travel whenever possible
  • Avoid contact with other people
  • Maintain good hygiene. In particular, it is recommended to wash hands frequently and use disinfectant gels as much as possible.
  • If the patient has a cough or sneezes, the nose or mouth should be covered. It is recommended to do it in disposable handkerchiefs or on the inside of the arm.
  • Avoid touching the face, with special attention to the nose, mouth and eyes, as these are entry routes for the virus.

These are measures that prevent both contagion and the spread of the virus, thus reducing the epidemic curve.

When will the curve slow down?

At the moment, it is too early to say when the epidemiological curve will stop in Spain. So far, the curve maintains an exponential growth, although in the last few days the number of infected people seems to have slowed down a little, this could be a misleading effect, since in some cases people with mild symptoms have stopped being tested.

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As long as the number of cases maintains a straight line of positive growth, the number of cases will remain exponential and will continue to multiply. However, the moment the curve tends to flatten each day, it will mean that the rate of infection is slower, and therefore, that the epidemic will begin to be under control.

For the time being, health authorities estimate that around March 27 or 28 the ceiling of cases in Spain could be reached, although other voices consider that the peak of Spanish growth will not be reached until early or mid-April.

Until the situation changes, the population should follow governmental indications and take all possible precautions to avoid contracting the virus. If you think you have symptoms of COVID-19, contact 900400061.