What does ‘flattening the curve’ of COVID-19 mean?

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In recent days we have heard health officials make an energetic call for people to stay home to ‘flatten the growth curve’ of COVID-19, but what does this mean?

Dr. Dalia Chávez García, Director of the School of Engineering at CETYS University International Campus in Ensenada, explains that to understand the concept of flattening the curve, one must first know how and what the exponential growth of the virus is.

The exponential growth of a variable (in this case the virus) refers to the fact that it grows faster and faster over time, it multiplies. But also, its decline is exponential, so after reaching a peak of growth and with the recommended measures to be taken, it will decrease, hence the insistence of public officials not to leave home to prevent growth from being exponential.

Likewise, Dr. Chávez García details that the growth projections are made based on historical data, this means that you find how the virus behaves and how it spreads, and from that base number, the growth predictions are derived.

“So, if no one heeds the recommendations, the growth curve continues to rise, and the virus continues to spread, but if we stay home, the spread curve decreases,” she explained.

Regarding people who need to go to work, Dr. Dalia reiterates that they must take all the sanitary precautions recommended by the health authorities; washing their hands regularly with soap and water or with a disinfectant, covering their nose and mouth when coughing and sneezing with a handkerchief or the inside of the elbow, avoiding direct contact with anyone with symptoms of cold or flu. This way, we can prevent the spread of the virus, and the growth curve decreases.

As the graph demonstrates, the curve can keep growing uncontrollably until the health system’s capacity is overwhelmed, and with this, there will be a significant number of cases that will not be able to receive attention and, consequently, more deaths.

“But if we follow all the recommendations, the curve would change to the point where cases will start to drop because there are no people exposed to contagion. So exponential growth will soften, which means that it could have controlled growth, as seen in the other curve,” she concluded.

Finally, Dr. Chávez García concludes that, by flattening the curve, there will be fewer infections, avoiding saturation of hospitals, as well as deaths from lack of care.

“And we achieve this just by staying at home. We can make the change that is required so that what has unfortunately happened in other countries does not happen to us, let us learn from the lessons of others to avoid a catastrophe in Mexico.”

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