You may have seen the above image floating around on social media in the past week. A common caption for this images is “The one who stayed away saved them all.” This is the perfect representation of social distancing and why it is so important right now. So what exactly does “social distancing” mean? There is a lot that we don’t know about the novel Coronavirus causing our current pandemic, but one thing we do know for sure is that it is spread person to person by coughing, sneezing, or any kind of respiratory droplets. We want to reduce the number of people that we are each exposed to as each person that is around us can “share” their respiratory droplets with all of those around them. By keeping our distance from one another, we are hoping to slow the spread of this virus. The idea of “social distancing” is why schools, restaurants, churches, movie theaters, stores and just about any event that has more than 10 people in the same area has been cancelled.
That brings me to the idea of “flattening the curve.” The “curve” we are talking about here is the number of people expected to become infected with COVID-19. With novel viruses such as this strain of coronavirus, we can expect that much of the population will eventually get the virus since we do not have immunity to this virus (each time your body sees a virus, the immune system will makes cells that will help to “remember” the virus should you body see it again. If the body is presented with the same virus in the future, these “remember cells” can help to fight off the virus before it will even make you ill). You see that steep, pink curve on the graph below? That is what happens when an entire population becomes infected with a virus around the same time. The number of sick people rapidly exceeds the capacity of the healthcare system to care for those that are ill. This is what happened in Italy with COVID-19. Such a large number of people ill with the virus at the same time to where there were no hospital beds available for all of those that needed hospital care. If we practice social distancing and can keep COVID-19 from spreading like wildfire through our communities, then we can flatten the curve and hopefully prevent overwhelming our medical system.