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Ten Reasons Why We Should Flatten the Curve

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Flatten the curve to Empty hospital beds

The United States is facing a third wave of Covid-19 infections. The nation is faced with two choices. It can let the virus spread, which lead to a spike of cases. Or the nation can try to slow the virus down. The idea behind “flattening the curve” is slowing down the virus. People wear masks, social distance, and avoid crowds in order to help stop its spread. Here are ten reasons why America should flatten the curve.  

1) To have hospital beds if we get sick

If we flatten the curve in the U.S., hospitals will have more available beds. We often take hospitals for granted, but hospitals have a limited number of beds. In 2018, the United States had 924,000 beds with an average of a 65.9% occupancy rate. In some particularly bad influenza years, like the 2017-18 season, the number of hospitalizations exceeded the number of staffed beds. 

Covid-19 is a highly virulent virus, and a high number of those infected require hospitalization. Each Covid patient occupies a bed that the hospital had not planned for. Thus, if there are too many Covid patients, the patients can “overwhelm” our hospitals. This would result in some patients not having beds. Covid patients often need a special kind of bed in an intensive care units (ICUs). These ICUs have equipment set up to monitor vital signs and round-the-clock care. Covid patients will also need negative-pressure rooms to prevent others from getting infected. A hospital may have available normal beds but no available ICU beds. This is particularly dangerous for the sickest patients. 

New York City hospitals at the peak of the pandemic were almost overwhelmed. In July, some Houston hospitals were close to their capacity. At the end of October, Milwaukee, WI, had to open an extra field hospital to take in the surge of Covid patients. 

2) To have enough medicine for the hospitals

If we flatten the curve we will have enough medicine for sick patients. While Covid-19 patients with mild cases often can get better at home, patients who are critically ill require treatment at our hospitals. Different drugs have shown promise in helping in the recovery. Dexamethasone, an immunosuppressant, has shown evidence of reducing the death rate of critically ill patients who are on ventilators. Hospitals give anticoagulants like heparin to patients who have dangerous blood clots. Remdesivir, an antiviral, has been found to reduce recovery times. FDA approved it for treatment at the end of October. Covid patients who are on ventilators need paralytics and analgesics to keep their lungs from fighting the ventilators. Unfortunately, the United States has a critical shortage of many of these drugs.

We need to flatten the curve so that the U.S. does not run out of these key drugs. Without them, the treatment for Covid-19 patients would not be as effective. Additionally, non-Covid-19 patients who also rely on the same drugs will be put into difficult situations. As an example, patients who have auto-immune diseases also need dexamethasone.

3) To have enough ventilators at hospitals for the critically-ill patients

We need to flatten the curve so that we can have enough ventilators to take care of critically-ill patients. Covid-19 patients often develop viral pneumonia, which can reduce the oxygen intake of the lungs. If patients have low oxygen levels, they will get extra oxygen. However, if the enriched oxygen is still not enough, hospitals will put patients on mechanical respirators. These ventilators save lives. Recent studies show that the majority of patients who are put on ventilators benefit from the treatment and survive. They are the last stand against the virus.

It is important that hospitals have enough ventilators for the critically ill. Overwhelmed hospitals can run out of ventilators. When Italy was in the peak of the pandemic, Italian hospitals ran out of ventilators. Doctors had to make tough ethical decisions about who to ventilate and who to not. Hospitals in the U.S. hope to never have to force our healthcare workers to make those tough decisions.

4) To prevent healthcare workers from getting sick

Flatten the cureve to spare Doctor in scrubs slumped with fatigue

By flattening the curve, fewer healthcare workers will get sick. The Covid-19 virus is much more contagious than the influenza virus. Without any safeguards, one person infected with Covid-19 will infect three to four others. Influenza is not as contagious. Those with the flu normaly infect 1.4 to 1.7 others.

Every time a healthcare worker is around a Covid-19 patient there is the possibility of infection. Healthcare workers wear personal protective equipment such as N95 masks, double gloves, and face shields to be safe. Sometimes their equipment fails and sometimes they don’t have enough. At the beginning of the pandemic crisis in the U.S., New York experienced a shortage of personal protective equipment. This put many healthcare workers at risk. According to National Nurses United, an estimated 1700 healthcare workers have died in the United States due to Covid-19.

Healthcare workers care for both Covid-19 patients and non-Covid-19 patients. When healthcare professionals are out sick, they cannot give valuable care. Patients suffer. Additionally, if healthcare workers are sick but are not aware of the sickness, they can infect vulnerable patients unintentionally. 

5) To give sick Covid-19 patients a place for care

We need to flatten the curve to give sick Covid-19 patients a place to recover. From mid-March to early April, the Emergency Medical Services of New York City received a flood of cardiac calls. Three to five times the number of people were dying from heart attacks than during the same months in 2019. Many were Covid patients who  were waiting too long before calling for help. The source of the problem was the healthcare system. 

In the early days of the pandemic crisis, many very sick people were sent home from hospitals to recover. Only the sickest got hospital beds. But when people are refused care, they are less inclined to call the ambulance when they became dangerously ill. Andre Laubauch was refused emergency care twice. Fortunately, he recovered at home. Kaila Corrothers was denied a Covid test four times and sent home from the hospital because she was not sick enough. She later passed away due to Covid-19. Her story is one of many.

By flattening the curve, Covid-19 patients will have more care available to them. Patients won’t have to recover by themselves. They will be treated. Covid-19 has been associated with walking pneumonia. When people have walking pneumonia, they can feel okay until their oxygen levels plummet. If help does not arrive quick enough, death could result. More careful monitoring by healthcare professionals will improve patients’ outcomes. Dangerous blood clots are also common side effects of the immune response to Covid-19. Blood clots can cause heart attacks, strokes, and kidney disease. If patients are at hospitals and the have blood clots, they can be treated quickly. 

6) To not get our seniors sick

Holding hands with elderly; flatten the curve to save them

We need to flatten the curve to prevent our seniors from getting sick. Covid-19 discriminates. Although most children and young adults will probably have mild symptoms, its severity increases greatly with age. Eight out of ten Covid-19 deaths have been amongst seniors 65 years of age or higher. 

Flattening the curve will reduce the number of infected in the population, which will then keep our seniors safer. The virus is highly contagious. If the curve is not flattened, all seniors will have to isolate themselves. They will not be able to see their grandchildren. By flattening the curve, grandmothers and grandfathers around our country will not have to worry about loving hugs by small children.

7) To not get the vulnerable sick

The United States should flatten the curve so our vulnerable communities will not get sick. Hypertension, diabetes, respiratory problems, and cancer put people more at risk of critical illness or death when infected by Covid-19. But vulnerable people still have jobs and still care for others. There are 34 million Americans with diabetes and more than 100 million Americans who have high blood pressure. Those vulnerable to severe effects from Covid-19 are everywhere.

By flattening the curve, our vulnerable population will have less risk. They will be able to work at their jobs and care for their children and parents without the fears of getting sick. They are among us, living and working. It is not possible to look at someone and know if they are vulnerable or not. Anybody around us could have a risk factor of having a bad outcome with Covid-19.

8) To reduce the infection fatality rate for Covid-19

America needs to flatten the curve so less people die from Covid-19. One study published in Lancet looked at the mortality rate for New York City due to Covid-19. The researchers calculated that 1.39% of those infected died.  With treatment, though, the mortality rate would be less than this. Treatment improves outcomes. 

Hospitals and healthcare workers provide valuable services to society. If they are overwhelmed, Covid-19 patients may find themselves without proper treatment, which will undoubtedly increase the mortality rate. We are flattening the curve to prevent this from happening.

9) To allow for non-Covid-19 related medical procedures to occur

Empty operating room

We need to flatten the curve in the U.S. so that patients have a place to go to have medical procedures done. For much of the initial lockdown period, many states had stopped nonessential medical care. Their reasons were two-fold. First, they states hoped hoped to reduce the risk of non-Covid-19 related patients getting infected. Second, they freed up some beds. An example of this happened at the end of June when four counties in Texas experienced a surge of Covid-19 cases. Texas governor Greg Abbot stopped elective surgeries

Hospitals determine what is essential or nonessential medical care. During the first months of the pandemic in the U.S., surgeries for cancer and treatment such as chemotherapy were delayed. The hospitals weighed the benefits of the treatments against the risks of patients contracting the virus. However, for the patients, the outcome of their cancer was certainly worsened. Hospitals were also not treating many other ailments. 

With a surge of Covid-19 patients, non-Covid-19 patients also feared the hospital itself. This fear can be dangerous as there are times when the sick should seek medical help, but they aren’t. The CDC reported that emergency room visits decreased by 42% between March and May 2020. 

A surge of Covid-19 patients both increases deaths with those have the virus and those without. Patients skip medical treatment. Flattening the curve will also save lives for non-Covid-19 patients.

10) To ensure fewer people experience long-term damage due to Covid-19

By flattening the curve, fewer people will have long-term health problems due to Covid-19. Most people who contract Covid-19 have mild cases and will recover. The mortality rate is not the only issue. The virus has not been around long enough to know exactly what long-term effects there will be. Covid-19 causes pneumonia and pulmonary fibrosis. Pulmonary fibrosis causes a decrease in lung functioning. Doctors don’t know how temporary this will be.  

There are other severe symptoms. 10% of hospitalized patients appear to have dangerous blood clots. When clots block arteries they can cause organ damage. The Covid-19 virus seems to also cause heart problems, kidney disease, gastrointestinal problems. It may even affect the brain. Cases of long term neurological effects are increasing. 

Living with chronic deleterious health effects causes extended suffering. Stories like Jeff Freeman who are living with long-term effects for months and months are common. By flattening the curve, fewer people will suffer chronic health problems due to Covid-19.

Read more about the medical impacts of the pandemic with how Covid-19 is pushing the next generation of healthcare into telehealth or how drug shortages threaten Covid-19 treatment.