Flattening the COVID-19 Curve

Solutions Journalism Network

With the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rising by the day in the United States and around the world, and with “shelter-in-place” and “social lockdown” policies in effect around the world, it's difficult to not feel frightened and overwhelmed. Yet alongside the minute-by-minute news updates about the virus's spread, solutions journalists are on the ground reporting on what's working.

The stories in this collection (see below) are about efforts that have or are beginning to show signs that they are working to  “flatten the curve" of COVID-19 cases. Flattening the curve is rapidly becoming a household term; it refers to the epidemiological concept of slowing the rate of the spread of the coronavirus through social distancing and other measures. The goal of these measures is to keep the total number of cases at any given time below the threshold where a health care system would be overwhelmed. As the curve is flattened, the date when cases will peak in a given location is pushed further into the future.

In How the U.S. can defeat coronavirus: Heed Asia's lessons from past epidemics, we learn how early in the pandemic, several countries in Asia that had been hit hard by the SARS and MERS epidemics flattened their curves by acting swiftly to activate a sophisticated combination of mass testing, social distancing, border closures, and mandatory quarantines. We also hear of a small Italian town in the center of the epidemic that immediately instituted “drastic” social distancing measures at the outset that appear to have insulated it from the towns around it.

Closer to home, four other stories examine the cases of Seattle, San Francisco, and New Rochelle, NY. Each of these cities were at or near an epicenter of early US outbreaks, and each instituted early and substantial measures such as social distancing, the banning of large gatherings, and “stay-at-home” orders. New Rochelle established a “containment zone” that included drive-through testing and evaluation. All of these cities have seen infection rates below those originally modeled, although because the US response has come much later than those in Europe and Asia, the domestic results are somewhat preliminary. In particular, San Francisco’s efforts have appeared to push their predicted peak infection rate substantially forward.

Finally, an historical article compares the efforts of Philadelphia and San Francisco during the 1918 Spanish Flu, and how San Francisco’s banning of crowds dramatically flattened the curve during that pandemic.

Click here for more teaching collections on COVID-19.

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