Flatten the curve

Hi all. We’re living in a wild time right now and there’s a lot of uncertainty about what’s coming, and I know that can bring a lot of anxiety. Let’s talk about what we can do to protect ourselves, our families, and our communities, and how we can prepare for how the next weeks and months might play out.

Before we go further, please follow official sources for updates. This piece is written to dig into what’s happening, but please, always listen to experts when it comes to health.

Public Health Agency of Canada
World Health Organization

Let’s break it down. COVID-19, the novel coronavirus originating in Wuhan, has officially been declared a pandemic. China gave us all a lot of time to get ready by shutting down over the past months and their sacrifice has helped the global public health community learn a lot about this new illness. It has also paid off for them. Yesterday they had only eight new cases of COVID-19 in the region, a single-digit report for the first time since this began. South Korea has also managed remarkable containment. But it didn’t come easily, and there’s been a lot of illness and too much loss of life first.

Italy’s current situation is devastating. The rate of critical illness has far surpassed their ability to treat it and they’ve reached a point of having to make decisions about who can receive care.

In North America we’re watching. Many feel very removed, and others are beginning to panic. We’re unsure how COVID-19 will play out here, but one thing is certain – the choices we make will affect the outcome, and we all have a part to play. We need to flatten the curve.

Image credit: Drew Harris https://twitter.com/drewaharris

What does that mean? There’s a threshold of care that our system is able to provide, and during flu season our hospitals already operate over capacity. Last year in Ontario alone we had 5000 flu hospitalizations. That’s 5000 beds that were filled with people who had the flu, instead of people who had cancer, cardiac events, or other health concerns. No one is talking about it much now, but this has been a horrific flu season and beds are filled with people who have the flu – but we need those beds to be available if/when our COVID-19 cases surge. We need people to not get pneumonia. We need people to not get norovirus. We need people to reduce the chance they get COVID-19, or prolong it as long as possible.

It is likely that many of us will eventually contract COVID-19. *When* we get it makes a big difference in overall outcomes. If we all get it next week, our system won’t be able to care for all of us. If those of us who will eventually contract it, instead get it over coming months, our system will be better able to care for us. We don’t want people to be in the part of the curve over that dotted line.

How do we flatten the curve?

1) Get a flu shot, if you haven’t yet. Just go. Flu activity is still high and while COVID-19 isn’t hard on young people, the flu is. You don’t want the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. You don’t want to need hospital care while the hospital is over capacity with COVID-19. Make sure you’re caught up on all other vaccines, too. We don’t have a vaccine or anti-virals for COVID-19. Do everything you can to protect yourself from other things.

2) Hand hygiene. Wash your hands at least eight times a day, more as needed, for at least 20 seconds with soapy and water before rinsing. The whole hand, finger nails, all of it. Do it again after you’ve touched frequently touched surfaces like elevator buttons, shopping carts, door knobs, etc. I love this video from Your Morning with Ben Mulroney for a great how-to for proper hand washing.

3) Don’t touch your face, especially eyes, nose, and mouth. Don’t touch anyone else’s face.

4) Practice social distancing. The NBA has suspended the season. Concerts are being canceled. Can you work from home? GOOD. Can your organization’s convention be postponed? Please do that. Stop shaking hands for now.

5) You should not take a cruise right now. Other planned travel? Take a good look at the situation. What’s happening where you’re going? How will you get there? Will things still be open? Are you able to take two weeks after your trip if you’re quarantined? Can you afford it if you get stuck in your destination for awhile? Things are changing fast. Our family was away recently and in the space of a week the situation became completely different. If you’re flying or taking public transit, wipe down your seat and any nearby surfaces and wash your hands (and use sanitizer, if you can find it) as frequently as possible).

6) Are you unwell? Cover coughs and sneezes, stay home, and contact public health if you’re concerned you may have contracted COVID-19. They’ll help you with your next steps. The vast majority of people who contract COVID-19 don’t require hospital care, but could pass it on to people who would become much more seriously ill. Avoid passing it on.

7) Get your house and routine ready. This is a big one. Are you prepared if you need to stay home for a little while? Do you have what you need to get you through a couple weeks? Take a look through this link for some suggestions to get yourself ready. Don’t forget to think about entertainment, especially if you also have kiddos at home.

I know all of this can feel overwhelming right now. I’m sorry. I wish it were different. Let’s take care of each other while we get through this, and do everything we can to protect ourselves and each other. It’s not going to be easy, but the choices we make will make all the difference in outcome. Everything we do now will either increase or decrease the risk for ourselves and each other. Let’s do what we can.