You Keep Hearing about It, But What Does ‘Flatten The Curve’ Actually Mean?

This post is a part of YKA’s dedicated coverage of the novel coronavirus outbreak and aims to present factual, reliable information. Read more.

Last week, US-based broadcaster PBS’s Youtube channel It’s OK To Be Smart released a video explaining what the ‘curve’ means in disease management, and what it implies in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In a video called ‘What This Chart Actually Means For COVID-19‘, creator and host Dr Joe Hanson explained what the ‘curve‘ actually is. The ‘curve’, or epidemic curve (the proper term), is a chart used in epidemiology to visualise the onset of a disease outbreak.

As per the explanation, there are two types of epidemic curves (as visualised in the image below):

Rapid (Pink): This is when very little measures are taken to control the outbreak and, as a result, a lot of people fall sick in a short period of time.

Slow (Grey): This means the number of cases is lower and spread out over a longer period of time.

The dotted line represents health facilities, such as the number of healthcare workers, medical and hospital equipment, and more. This also determines the level of readiness of a country to deal with a virus.

If timely precautions aren’t taken, there will be a surge in the number of cases. Photo by Amarjeet Kumar Singh/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images.

In the case of the rapid curve, a large amount falls above the line, which means that even if the number of cases is the same as the grey curve, more people are likely to die due to inadequate medical facilities.  As per the video, the dotted line is exactly what the curve depends on.

It also explains the importance of taking precautions. If they aren’t taken timely, there will be a surge in the number of cases; as a result, the curve will go above the dotted line and the death rate will be higher. It mentions the ‘S’ shape that indicates the rapid rise of the curve. This is the number of cases that multiply on a daily basis and makes the curve go above the dotted line.

Source: Wikimedia Commons.

In order to flatten the curve, we need to lower the number of multiplied cases, this can only be done by following WHO’s guidelines.

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As the coronavirus pandemic continues, it is our duty to keep ourselves informed, take care of our own health, and wash our hands! Some simple measures that we must follow include social distancing, covering our mouth when coughing and sneezing, washing one's hands regularly, and avoid crowded places, and self-quarantine! The helpline provided by the government is +91-11-23978046. Here are some resources that the WHO and the Health Ministry have created. Remember, prevention, and not panic, will see us through this!
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