Canada is shutting down right now. My province Ontario may soon shut down everything except grocers, pharmacies, and essential services. Alberta tonight mandated a similar shut down.
Part of the worry is that we will not flatten the curve fast enough to allow our health care system to serve people. Here is what I mean.
In Italy, it is rumoured that the country will soon (perhaps they already have!) stop treating the elderly or those particularly at-risk because there is not enough medical care—they did not flatten the curve fast enough. When viewed from this angle, I think you can see why flattening the curve matters.
The medical community and many millions of people have pointed to this article in Medium to understand COVID-19. The article gives insight into the speed of spread and in particular the real numbers of infected people. It’s very technical, although understandable. Click the link above to give it a read.
Here are two important conclusions from the article:
- Excluding these, countries that are prepared will see a fatality rate of ~0.5% (South Korea) to 0.9% (rest of China).
- Countries that are overwhelmed will have a fatality rate between ~3%-5%
That means the possible difference between 1 in 200 dying or 1 in 20 dying, based on whether or not the curve flattens enough to let people get care.
One key example: if someone needs a ventilator to make their lungs work, but there are only 500 in a hospital but 2,000 patients, then who gets it? That’s the decision Italians are making. They appear to have chosen the young over the old, the strong over the weak.
Here is a snippet from the Medium article that illustrates how the hospital threshold can work:
“So if you suddenly have 100,000 people infected, many of them will want to go get tested. Around 20,000 will require hospitalization, 5,000 will need the ICU, and 1,000 will need machines that we don’t have enough of today. And that’s just with 100,000 cases.”
This follows from standard demographics of who needs to enter hospitals when infected with COVID-19.
And given that it is extremely likely that much more than 100,000 people will be sickened, it stands to reason that the healthcare system of our country will be very strained.
So this explains my understanding what flattening the curve means and why it matters. I am sure other more qualified writers can provide better information.