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covid-19 curve

COVID-19: Flattening the Curve

COVID-19: What does it mean to ‘flatten the curve?”

With the COVID-19 pandemic, you have probably heard this phrase ‘Flatten the Curve’ more than any other in the last two weeks. It is the single most important goal of the 21-day lockdown, which started on 25 March and will last until 16 April. 

But, apart from sounding like a fancy set of buzzwords, what exactly does it mean to ‘flatten the curve’ and how important is it really?

For context, there have been over 800,000 cases of COVID-19 infection reported worldwide. So far, the WHO has recorded 38,749 deaths. Around 172,319 people have recovered from the virus, while the majority of cases (589,993) remain active. 

Currently, over 30,280 people are in a serious or critical condition.

COVID-19 Critical window

The 21-day lockdown is an attempt to stop the spread of infection from peaking beyond a certain number of cases. The number of infections is indicated on a bell curve, or diagram, that shows how fast or high a certain number is rising. The higher the number of infections, the higher the indicating curve in the diagram will go; hence the expression. 

As Investopedia explains: “A bell curve is a graph depicting the normal distribution that has a shape reminiscent of a bell. The top of the curve shows the mean, mode and median of the data collected. Its standard deviation depicts the bell curve’s relative width around the mean.”

The flatter the curve on the number of cases that emerge at one time in SA, the easier the pandemic will be on the country’s health system. 

The chart specifically for the awareness of the coronavirus was shared by population health analyst Drew Harris. Harris works at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. The Chart’s design is by Rosumund Pearce, a visual data journalist with The Economist.

As it stands on March 31, there were 1353 coronavirus cases in the country, and this number is expected to grow by the day. The slowing effect of the period of isolation is only expected to start showing results at the two-week mark. 

Minister of Health Doctor Zweli Mkhize told the media that “The rate of increase in the numbers is not as much as anticipated. Our modelling already shows that we are falling behind the number we thought we would reach.” 

He continued: “The figure we thought we would reach by the end of April was between 4,000 and 5,000, but I don’t think we will get there.

President Cyril Ramaphosa said in a national address on Monday that the number of infected people continues to grow. The president asked all South Africans to stay at home for the next 17 days in a bid to stop the virus in its early stages.

“Leave your home only if you need to get food or essential provisions. If you do have to go out, make sure you do everything you can not to get infected, or to infect someone else.”

Check out our Coronavirus Update Hub here

How is the COVID-19 curve flattened?

There are several precautions that have been suggested by WHO and other health institutes as a means to stop the spread of COVID-19. 

The rules of the national lockdown directly coincide with the guidelines. Social Distancing is the best way to limit the reach of the virus to the elderly, chronic patients, people with low immunity, and everyone who has ongoing respiratory issues. With the whole world in isolation, people have been urged to remain at least a metre away from each other in public spaces. As far as possible, South Africans have been urged to stay in their homes, unless they need to go out for either food, work (essential staff only) and medical attention. 

The virus is spread through droplets generated when an infected person coughs or sneezes, or through droplets of saliva or discharge from the nose. Because of this, the further you stay away from an infected person, the less likely you are to catch the coronavirus.

Cover your mouth with a tissue when you sneeze or cough.

Call your doctor or clinic if you have any of the symptoms of COVID-19. 

Symptoms include a cough, a runny nose, or shortness of breath and lethargy.

A telehealth facility is invaluable in a time of social isolation. This allows you to seek medical attention without a) putting yourself at risk of catching the coronavirus and b) minimising the risk of you infecting others who may be immunodeficient. 

Wash your hands

Another important measure against spreading the infection is hygiene and the proper practice. Many public service announcements in the last month have emphasised the proper way to wash your hands. Many people were not using enough soap, and not washing for long enough. Another issue seemed to be the actual technique, and experts have explained that washing the palms, fingertips and under the nails is very important. 

Hand sanitiser

Hand sanitiser protects against disease-causing microbes. Hand sanitiser sales have skyrocketed since the outbreak. Experts still maintain that washing with soapy water is the best way to stop the infection, but having hand sanitiser to seal the deal after a thorough scrub down can’t hurt.

But all hand sanitisers are not created equal. 

The Jakarta explains: There are two main types of hand sanitisers: alcohol-based and alcohol-free. Alcohol-based hand sanitisers contain varying amounts and types of alcohol, often between 60% and 95% and usually isopropyl alcohol, ethanol (ethyl alcohol) or n-propanol. Alcohol is known to kill most germs.

Alcohol-based hand sanitisers are also effective in killing many types of bacteria, including MRSA and E Coli. They were also popularised as being effective against many viruses, such as the influenza A virus, rhinovirus, hepatitis A virus and Middle East respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV).

Alcohol-free hand sanitisers are less effective than alcohol. They contain quaternary ammonium compounds (usually benzalkonium chloride) instead.

Do your best to implement these measures and stay safe in the 21 days of lockdown and beyond.

While we cannot currently stop the spread of COVID-19 in South Africa, we have a critical window of opportunity to slow down the spread of the virus as much as possible.