Flatten the curve.
You have probably heard public health officials repeat this phrase as they announce major cancellations and closures related to the new coronavirus pandemic.
So what exactly does that mean? And what can you do to help?
The “curve” refers to exponential growth in new cases that could occur if the virus can spread uncontrollably in the community.
A sharp spike in COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, could bring a stream of new patients, many of whom would need intensive care. Experts say the scenario would have overwhelmed the health system, making it more difficult to make life-saving treatments for all sick people.
The director of the National Institute for Allergies and Infectious Diseases, dr. Anthony Fauci explains social distancing and how it can help slow the spread of coronavirus in elderly and immunocompromised patients.
That’s why it’s imperative to stop the transmission of the virus and slow it down in the coming weeks, said Dr. Davidson Hamer, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Boston School of Public Health.
Even if the same number of people contract the virus, doctors and nurses will have a greater chance of saving lives if the cases spread over a longer period of time.
“If there is a big wave all at once, then hospitals could run out of beds, run out of negative pressure rooms,” he said. “You know, if there are many patients on fans, potentially even running out of fans.”
State leaders have yet to indicate what could be a spike in COVID-19 cases in Massachusetts. In a press conference last week, Health and Human Services Secretary Marylou Sudders said the state is now busy planning scenarios for “what could happen in Massachusetts.”
Governor Charlie Baker has announced that Massachusetts has established a command center for coronavirus response. Recognizing the empty shelves seen around Commonwealth food stores, he told people that there is no need to accumulate food.
The Massachusetts Hospital Association has forwarded NBC10 Boston’s questions to the Department of Public Health, which has not yet responded to requests for information on the state’s hospital capacity.
But previous state projections shed light on how serious a public health emergency in the Bay State can be.
In a 2006 flu pandemic preparedness plan, Massachusetts public health officials predicted that as many as 2 million people would fall ill following the emergence of a new respiratory disease.
Using the modeling developed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the state predicted that over 1 million people would have to be treated on an outpatient basis, based on the most likely scenario of how the pandemic would spread across the globe. state. The model predicted that over 80,000 people would have to be treated in a hospital and up to 20,000 could die, in part because the hospital system would be overwhelmed by a flood of cases.
As part of the preparation planning, public health officials in Massachusetts asked hospitals across the state to negotiate agreements to use other large facilities in their region, such as high schools and arsenals, such as so-called “alternative care sites”. The state plans to touch those facilities to treat patients with less severe cases of theoretical disease, allowing hospitals to focus only on the sickest patients.
Importantly, the new coronavirus that now plagues people around the world may not follow the same trajectory as that shown in the state’s projections. These numbers were based on the assumption that 30 percent of the population would contract the virus. This figure may be higher or lower as researchers collect more data on the virus causing COVID-19.
The president and vice president told the public that anyone who wants a test can get one, but dozens of people have contacted NBC10 Boston investigators to say it wasn’t their experience, including a chemotherapy patient.
Massachusetts’ population has also increased since the state made its forecasts, going from about 6.4 million in 2006 to about 6.9 million today.
Emergency measures put in place by Governor Charlie Baker and others could also mitigate the spike in the epidemic, Hamer said, drastically reducing the number of patients who need treatment simultaneously and potentially saving lives.
“If social distancing and personal hygiene and work at home and all these types of strategies don’t work and we have a very large number of cases in a short period of time, I think it could overwhelm the health care system,” he said.