How Can We “Flatten the Curve?”

This post is written by TCS Nurse Sharon Smith

Unless you’ve decided to apply social distancing to your media life, you should have heard the phrase, “flatten the curve” in reference to social distancing and COVID-19. In the fire hose of information, we’re constantly inundated with regarding this new virus, it’s easy to file away recommendations like social distancing that will help “flatten the curve” into the part of our brains labelled “these recommendations keep changing and I’m now helping my child learn remotely while working full-time from home and have recently begun losing my sense of time.” .” Don’t fret! Nurse Sharon, with generous help from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is here to set the record straight!

What does “flatten the curve” actually mean and why is it important?
Flattening the curve does not mean decreasing the total number of cases, but rather spreading the total number of cases out over a longer time period. If people must get sick, we want to do our part to help decrease the burden placed on our healthcare system. If too many folks get sick too quickly, healthcare workers and hospitals will not be able to provide adequate healthcare to sick individuals. If the curve exceeds hospital capacity, the healthcare system can’t meet patient demand. This doesn’t just apply to COVID-19 patients – it applies to all patients.

What is social distancing and how do you do it…correctly?
Social distancing is the most effective measure we can take to decrease the rate of infection. The CDC asserts that the best way to prevent COVID-19 is to avoid being exposed to this virus. The virus is thought to spread mainly from person-to-person; between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet). You can even get the virus through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes and the droplets get inside of your mouth, nose, or even eyes. Remember, if you’re not around others, you can’t spread it or get it! 

Because COVID-19 is spreading through our Atlanta community, the CDC recommends putting distance (at least 6-feet) between you and others. This obviously doesn’t apply to those you live with unless someone in your household is sick. It’s important to avoid contact with people who are sick, even if they are not confirmed to have COVID-19.  

What is hospital capacity?
Healthcare/hospital capacity is defined as the number of healthcare staff, available beds, and other measures used for patient care such as medical devices, medication, and personal protective equipment (PPE). This capacity line should remain above the COVID-19 curve. Hospitals can raise the line by canceling elective procedures, utilizing telehealth medicine for appropriate patients, and increasing the availability of home health care. These efforts must be done along with social distancing, good hand hygiene, frequent disinfection of high touch surfaces and staying home when you’re sick. 

What can we do to help increase hospital capacity?

  1. N95 masks are tight-fitting masks that filter out at least 95 percent of small and large airborne particles and are for healthcare workers only. There are a handful of exceptions, but odds are, you aren’t one of them. When a non-healthcare worker wears a N95 mask, it decreases the supply for healthcare workers who need them. You must be professionally sized and trained to wear them. They are designed to protect healthcare workers from becoming ill while taking care of patients. If you’ve stockpiled N95 masks, I recommend you donate them to your local healthcare facility. They need them to stay safe and healthy and to increase hospital capacity. Additionally, surgical masks are designed to keep sick people from spreading their germs to healthy people. They will not keep healthy people from getting sick and most people touch their face more when wearing a surgical mask (a.k.a. you’re potentially more likely to get sick wearing one!)
  2. If you’re sick and/or unsure if you’re showing symptoms, call your healthcare provider first to receive guidance on whether you should visit a hospital or doctor’s office. This will help free up valuable healthcare provider time and hospital resources for the most vulnerable patients. 

“Care and respect for others” is a core value at TCS and is integral to our Wolf Pack identity. We need to prioritize this value now more than ever – for our older adult friends and family; for the vulnerable population; for the health care providers that risk their lives to do what they do best – heal; and for our planet for which we are all citizens of. Let’s do our part to “flatten the curve” and raise healthcare capacity.


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