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Experts explain why ‘flattening the curve’ is important

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LINCOLN – For many Nebraskans, COVID-19 will be like a cold. But for some of our parents and grandparents, it could be very severe, and could result in death. Recent data shows that the virus is also affecting younger people. 

A Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report said 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 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 spring 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.

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 cancelled 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.