The coronavirus has officially reached America and has spread into almost every state. Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic on Wednesday.
In response, measures are being put into place on the federal, state, and local levels to control the spread of the disease and limit the number of infections. This includes the cancellation of countless high-profile events and recommendations for citizens to practice social distancing. While this seems like a frightening brush with dystopia, these measures are not only extremely important in the fight against the coronavirus outbreak, they are saving lives.
Flattening the Curve
As this pandemic continues to spread, everyone from the government to individuals is worried about how it will be contained. Fortunately, to this point, the virus has a relatively low fatality rate. Healthy adults and children seem to experience only mild flu-like symptoms.
On the other hand, elderly individuals and those with pre-existing conditions like diabetes or a compromised immune system are more likely to experience life-threatening symptoms.
In America, even a one percent fatality rate reflects a scenario where tens or hundreds of thousands of people could die from COVID-19. With that in mind, containing and controlling the outbreak is of the utmost importance.
The speed at which the coronavirus pandemic progresses will play a huge role in determining how severe its consequences are. A disease outbreak that moves more slowly results in hospitals that are less overwhelmed and, thus, better outcomes for everyone.
Several measures currently in place around the United States include the cancellation of mass gatherings like conferences and sporting events, self-isolation, and social distancing. Combined, these practices can help slow the progression of the coronavirus pandemic. This ultimately helps save lives not only in the U.S., but also around the world.
Carl Bergstrom, a University of Washington biologist, says, “Even if you don’t reduce total cases, slowing down the rate of an epidemic can be critical.”
People are quick to cancel a celebrity after they do something that the public finds unfavorable. However, the cancellation of popular events like E3 or SXSW doesn’t go over so smoothly. Already a large public outcry claims that measures meant to stop the spread of the coronavirus are an overreaction.
However, that couldn’t be further from the truth. Although COVID-19 isn’t as deadly as other epidemics like Ebola, it must be treated with equal seriousness. The measures being put in place to minimize social contact in the coming days and weeks aren’t designed to keep everyone from catching the new virus. Sadly, that’s impossible.
Rather, they seek to keep the most vulnerable members of our population safe. They also aim to ensure that hospitals aren’t overwhelmed by a spike of new cases that outnumbers their capacity for care.
Although social distancing will help keep many people free of the coronavirus, it isn’t a perfect method. Instead, it helps mitigate the overwhelming influx of patients on an already strained healthcare ecosystem.
U.S. hospitals currently have about 45,000 intensive care unit (ICU) beds in total. Estimates suggest that even a moderate COVID-19 outbreak could mean that 200,000 patients need ICU care. A severe outbreak could raise that number to upwards of three million.
Even without those patients, the country’s ICUs are already overflowing with those stricken by influenza, trauma, and other life-threatening conditions. Moreover, there are only about 160,000 ventilators available for use in the U.S. While it’s impossible to predict if that will be enough, some experts fear the worst.
With this in mind, limiting further stress on the healthcare system is vital. Social distancing measures, if taken seriously, will help accomplish this.
Since people won’t come into close contact with each other as frequently, the rate of new cases will decrease. That slower pace gives hospitals and healthcare staff precious time to catch up and treat COVID-19 patients appropriately.
The idea of “flattening the curve” is currently circulating on social media. It originated after the CDC released a graph demonstrating the principle.
Measures like canceling popular tech conferences and suspending professional sports seasons will help ensure that the coronavirus isn’t able to wildly spread among huge groups of people. At the same time, it will also prevent them from bringing it back to their hometowns and communities.
The Strength of the Herd
Getting past the new coronavirus epidemic isn’t going to happen overnight. Nor is it going to happen without a combined effort from every single person. Simply put, social distancing measures will only work if everyone does their part.
As countless schools and universities transition to online learning or extend their breaks, students shouldn’t view it as a time to go socialize but rather as a time to stay home. Likewise, those in the workforce who may now be working from home should try to avoid leaving the house whenever possible.
Sadly, many who are young and relatively healthy have been quick to dismiss COVID-19 as a disease that only kills the elderly and the sick. Of course, those individuals are friends, neighbors, and family. While the majority of people might not be seriously threatened by the coronavirus, it is everyone’s responsibility to step in and protect the lives of those who are.
By staying home when feeling sick, washing your hands, and avoiding large social gatherings, you can do your part. The mass cancellations caused by the coronavirus pandemic might be annoying and are certainly frustrating. However, they are a crucial move that is helping to keep your elderly family member alive and your friend with a chronic illness healthy.
In the days to come, it will be crucial that everyone adheres to the latest advice from public health officials and government bodies regarding social distancing measures. With a team effort, America is strong enough to endure this challenge.