The phrase “flatten the curve” went viral around the time Washington primary results started rolling in on Tuesday. (Votes are still being tallied, by the way.) Seeing it trend on Twitter, I figured this was some newfangled lingo “expert” politicos were dropping on TV. I was wrong. The term referred to a nifty coronavirus-related graph that traces its origins to the CDC and The Economist.
Important to remember that #Covid-19 epidemic control measures may only delay cases, not prevent. However, this helps limit surge and gives hospitals time to prepare and manage. It's the difference between finding an ICU bed & ventilator or being treated in the parking lot tent. pic.twitter.com/VOyfBcLMus— Drew Harris (@drewaharris) February 28, 2020
Once you see the visual, flattening the curve is pretty straightforward: We might not be able to stop the virus, but if we reduce the rate of its spread by implementing protective policies, our healthcare system will be much better prepared to accommodate patients over time. Ultimately, the rise in new cases will look less Rainier, more Capitol Hill.
Governor Jay Inslee and other political leaders have embraced the concept. At the Wednesday press conference where Inslee announced a ban on large gatherings, a similar image was displayed behind him. It showed the effects of 25, 50, and 75 percent contact reductions in graphical form. The curves were indeed flatter; a working paper that helped inform the decision reported that a 25 percent decrease in the transmission rate via social distancing would cut total deaths and infections by roughly 60 percent.
This argument isn't going away. Flattening the curve is the rationale for local bans on classes, concerts, and games that will extend at least through March. So, when you’re debating all things pandemic, you might want to drop the phrase while avoiding these coronavirus jargon pitfalls.
“The coronavirus” is technically wrong. Only a real stickler’s going to call you out on this one. There are multiple coronaviruses. This is a novel (new) coronavirus, SARS-CoV-2, that joins “a large family of viruses that are common in people and many different species of animals,” according to the CDC. But really, except for your most petty friend, everyone will know which one you’re talking about.
COVID-19 is not the name of the virus. The abbreviation for “coronavirus disease 2019” refers to the respiratory illness the virus causes. Think AIDS versus HIV.
Don't use immunocompromised narrowly. You might have gathered that immunocompromised people have weakened immune systems and are thus more susceptible to contracting the virus. What you might not have realized is that the term can refer to a wide spectrum of maladies affecting people young and old. Remember this the next time you go toe-to-toe with an ageist who's convinced only the elderly are at risk.
Know your -demics. We're in a pandemic, people. Let's not downplay it. Pandemics are basically really widespread versions of epidemics, diseases that travel to multiple regions of the world and affect a high percentage of people there. If you want more of a breakdown, check out Merriam-Webster.
Quarantine and isolation aren't the same thing. It's a minor distinction, but it can say a lot about your current condition. The CDC says isolation "separates sick people with a contagious disease from people who are not sick," while quarantine "separates and restricts the movement of people who were exposed to a contagious disease to see if they become sick." At this point, many of us don't know if we've come into contact with the virus, so feel free to use "self-quarantine" as much as you want.