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What is #FlattenTheCurve? Why is everything cancelled?

13 Mar 2020 🔖 health
💬 EN

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If you work in technology, you can relate to the feeling of being invisible specifically because you go above and beyond the call of duty, right?

(And many other sectors, but this is a tech blog!)

That sense that you must be doing really good work, because everyone forgets you exist. Your job is literally to make sure nothing “noticeable” happens.

Why Social Distancing

From what I’ve been reading, the public health rationale behind “extreme” closures such as Ohio, USA shutting down all of its schools with only 5 confirmed cases is:

To reduce morbidity by making coronavirus’s spread so painfully slow and drawn out that everyone who gets sick enough to need a ventilator will have one available.

Apparently ventilators are very good at helping people recover from severe cases of COVID-19, but extremely limited numbers of them exist.

  • Italy seems to be suffering particularly badly because so many people are sick at the same time in certain areas that local hospitals are running out of ventilators and can’t rescue everyone who might make a full recovery if given a ventilator.
  • South Korea, on the other hand, seems to be managing to keep new infections at a “low and slow burn” that won’t be “over” any time soon, but which they hope will spread out people’s need for ventilators long enough that everyone who needs one gets one.

I know there are MANY tragic side effects to social distancing that are really important moral questions in their own rights.

There are so many reasons to wonder if this is all “worth it:”

  • Hungry kids who eat at schools
  • People who need income from their jobs to stay housed and healthy
  • etc.

I understand that there are many reasons to wonder if social distancing is being “implemented properly to minimize suffering:”

  • Families who rely upon schools to keep their kids “busy” while they are earning money and therefore away from their elderly grandparents
  • Elderly people who rely upon companionship from loved ones to get up in the morning each day and to make sure they’re getting adequate care
  • Questions about whether adequate social distancing is possible without also delivering healthcare and income in different ways than is currently done in the United States
  • etc.

I’m not going to pretend to have any answers about how you should feel about these terrible “trolley problem” questions.

(I’m a little more likely to pontificate about the “policy” questions … but not right here or right now.)


If you were confused about the “philosophy” behind mass event cancellations, I hope that this post has helped clarify where a lot of the policies seem to be coming from.

From what I read, public health experts think it’s very possible that most of us and our loved ones will eventually catch, and get over, COVID-19.

A certain percentage of those who do are going to need hospitalization if they’re going to be among those who “get over” it.

If everyone can help spread out the cases over the course of 2 years instead of 2 months, then the theory is that everyone should get the care required to help them be among the people who thrive.

The public health experts’ theory, as I understand it, is that like with the “Y2K bug” and a lot of your day-to-day work, if “everyone wonders what all the worry and work was for,” then the work was effective.

Other ways to help

I saw an amazing tweet from @karlitaliliana pointing out that it is not everyone’s instinct to stockpile home goods. She asked:

“How much more effective we would be if the instinct was to write a note to each neighbor, offer a phone number or to tell them to leave a note on your door if they’ve gotten ill, so folks could leave supplies if anyone gets sick out front.”

I’ll admit … I went on a shopping spree 2 weeks ago.

I have a job that can largely be done from home, so I prepped to “camp in” out of what felt like altruism at the time, to help “flatten the curve.” I had money available to buy beans and rice, and leisure to cook it, and so I bought beans and rice.

But @karlitaliliana made me realize that that was only 1 of many steps I need to be taking.

As she pointed out, it’s crucial to go into “community mode” even while “social distancing.” Ask yourself and your neighbors how you can help. The answer is going to be different for everybody, but you have the ability to social distance and are reading this post just to decide if you want to … there might be other things you can be doing to help as well. Here’re a few things I wrote down in my own journal:

  • Got more than an emergency fund? Cash, cash, cash, cash, cash.
    • A round of cash donations to homeless shelters, food pantries, water-bill/rent-paying nonprofits, etc.
    • Do my neighbors need anything?
    • What can I do to help people losing work in the service sector?
  • Hands-on
    • Mow neighbors’ lawns, maybe?
  • Social
    • Call my family. Put the rotation onto my calendar.
    • Call friends who live alone.
    • Call friends who don’t live alone.

Other ways to social distance

Also don’t forget that coronavirus’s protective outer layer is very fatty, and that that means it’s very weak in the face of soapy water!

(Soap dissolves fat.)

This is one reason the 20-second handwashing thing is such a big deal, whereas with last year’s flu season I feel like PSA’s were waaaaaay more “cover your cough.”

Apparently, this thing really hates soap.

Compared to other viruses, from what I understand, it’s “heavy” and doesn’t travel particularly as far by cough as other viruses, and it can then be killed on contact with a good wash-down of the surface it fell on.

Yes, there are runs on Lysol, but it turns out that other than leaving soap scum (so give things a really good rinse), soapy water is, like, the ideal surface cleaner. For your phone, your counters, etc.

And, of course, your hands.

Personally, I’m going to use as much soap as I can in my cleaning routine so as to minimize my own consumption of “on-the-go” products like hand sanitizer & Lysol.

Good cleaning is a key part and parcel of good “social distancing” and “flattening the curve,” just as much as “staying home” is.

*virtual hugs* !!

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