Coronavirus: What history tells us about “flattening the curve”

Covid GIFThe U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised all Americans to limit our physical contact as COVID-19 or coronavirus spreads in communities across the country.
There is no cure or vaccine for the virus. It is highly contagious and particularly deadly to the elderly or others with compromised immune systems.
The CDC says 20% of those hospitalized for COVID-19 in the U.S. were 20-44 years old. Even if you are healthy, you can pass COVID-19 on to others who can be severely affected.
Help protect those you love by avoiding crowds, distancing yourself from other people and isolating yourself even if you think you just have the “sniffles.” We all have a responsibility to protect our loved ones, and others’ loved ones.
Flattening the curveFlattening the curve – The phrase “flattening the curve” refers to the same potential number of cases appearing over a greater period of time.
When a spike in cases occurs, health care resources can be overwhelmed. A flatter curve is slower, allowing people to recover and hospitals can continue to provide care to families, friends and neighbors who need it.
Flattening the curve means everybody does their part to reduce spread for as long as possible.
What history tells us –
Influenza struck the United States in the spring of 1918. By summer it seemed the outbreak was over, but a second wave of cases occurred in September. Two cities’ responses to the return of disease shed light on why today’s efforts to “flatten the curve” are so important.
 
Walter Reed Hospital Flu Ward

A masked nurse at Walter Reed General Hospital in Washington, D.C., takes the pulse of a patient suffering from influenza during the pandemic of 1918–1919. Patients in beds were lined up in a screened-in gallery, separated by sheets. Photo: Library of Congress

Philadelphia officials didn’t want to cancel a major, city-wide parade, worried about causing a panic. Eight hundred and eighty-five miles to the west, in St. Louis, Missouri, public officials had already canceled that city’s parade.

 
On September 28, about 200,000 Philadelphians in close quarters watched the parade of floats and marching bands. The first flu cases showed up two days later. By the end of the third day, flu patients filled every bed in every hospital in the city, and by the end of the week, 2,600 people had died. Over the next several weeks, more than 12,000 people in Philadelphia died of the flu.
 
Meanwhile, in St. Louis, only about 700 people died of the flu. Keeping people home saved thousands of lives in St. Louis, while people gathering in large numbers cost thousands of lives in Philadelphia.
 
Social distancing doesn’t prevent all disease but it can prevent a spike in cases so severe that hospitals become overwhelmed.

About Bernard McCoy

My views are my own and not a reflection of my employer. I'm a professor of Journalism at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. I've also been a working journalist for the past 29 years. I have covered news stories in war zones, reported on human and natural disasters, presidential conventions, a presidential inauguration and the September 11th, 2001 attack on the World Trade Center in New York City. My career experiences include work as an award-winning documentary producer, television news reporter, photographer, producer, and anchor. I worked at WIBW-TV, Topeka, KS., KCTV, Kansas City, MO, WKBD-TV, Detroit, MI., WILX-TV, Lansing, MI. and WBNS-TV, Columbus, OH. I have also worked as a contributing reporter for The Columbus Dispatch, Associated Press, CBS, CNN, the Ohio News Network and lecture at the Kosovo Institute of Journalism and Communications. I have a bachelor’s degree in journalism from the University of Kansas and a master’s degree in telecommunications management from Michigan State University.
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