Milwaukee, Let’s Talk About the Importance of Flattening the Curve

What the heck is #FlattenTheCurve? Why do we need to #CancelEverything?

We keep being told to stay inside as much as possible. We need to “flatten the curve.” But what does that mean?

Flattening the curve isn’t so much about stopping people from getting COVID-19, the novel coronavirus that more than 105 people in Wisconsin have already been diagnosed with as of March 18 — a number that’s only going to increase as testing ramps up and the virus spreads.

“Many hundreds of thousands of infections will happen,” Live Science predicts, “but they don’t all have to happen at once.”

In a video from UW-Stout Instructor Alexandra Hall, M.D., Hall explains it like this: “When we get a new infectious disease in the human population — to which we are not immune, to which we have no vaccine, we have no medications that are effective at this point in time — we tend to see an exponential rise in cases.”

 

That exponential rise comes from one person carrying the disease passing it on to two people, and those two people passing it on to four more people, et cetera, etc.

Exponential rises will very quickly overwhelm hospitals. There are only 924,107 staffed hospital beds in the U.S. That’s enough to cover typical flu seasons, but this is anything but your typical flu season.

Dr. Brian Monahan, the attending physician of the U.S. Supreme Court and of Congress, predicts that as many as 150 million Americans — nearly half our country’s population — could get the virus; and that more than 1 million will die from it.

“We need to make sure our health care system retains capacity for all of the things that may come its way.”
— Alexandra Hall, M.D., University of Wisconsin-Stout

A ProPublica study found that if 40% of the metro Milwaukee population catches COVID-19 over a 12-month period, we’ll be out of beds; the metro area only has 5,260 beds total, and most of them are currently filled with typical patients unrelated to COVID-19.

If 8% of the Milwaukee metro’s adult population ends up needing hospital care — which is well within the range of possibility due to the COVID-19 outbreak — that means the Milwaukee metro would need to somehow triple its hospital bed capacity to help all of them, ProPublica concluded.

That’s why it’s so important to slow down this virus through social distancing, to prevent hospitals from becoming overloaded.

“When we don’t have enough hospital beds — when we don’t have enough ventilators, when we don’t have enough medicines for whatever conditions it might be — what happens then is we have unnecessary deaths. And that’s what we want to avoid. What we’d rather do is slow this down and spread it out,” Hall says.

If we don’t slow it down, the U.S. will likely experience what’s happened in the Wuhan province of China and what is happening in Italy.

In Italy, doctors have been instructed to not waste limited resources on the most dire cases — forcing them to make margin calls on which patients to help, and which patients to allow nature take its course upon.

This kind of medical decision-making hasn’t been needed in the western world since World War II.

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By taking part in #CancelEverything culture — by just staying home and watching Netflix, rather than going out to the bars ignoring the state-order to close — we can keep it “so the number of cases doesn’t come so fast and furious,” Hall says, “so that when somebody does get sick, we do have a hospital bed for them. So that if you get in a car accident in the midst of an epidemic and you call 911, the phones aren’t busy.

“We need to make sure our health care system retains capacity for all of the things that may come its way.”

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Adam is a journalist who recently returned to his Wisconsin home after graduating from Drake University in December 2017. He interned with MilMag in the summer of 2015 and has been a continual contributor ever since. Follow him on social media @Could_Be_Rogan