With COVID-19 cases, deaths rising, are we flattening the curve?

Most agree that is, but don’t think this infection is going away

Dr. Anthony Leno and Dr. James Neuendorf look into an exam room where a patient with COVID-19 who went into cardiac arrest was revived.
Dr. Anthony Leno and Dr. James Neuendorf look into an exam room where a patient with COVID-19 who went into cardiac arrest was revived. (Copyright 2020 The Associated Press. All rights reserved.)

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. – Every day for nearly four weeks Florida has added between 700 and 1,400 confirmed cases of COVID-19 to the Department of Health’s tally and for three weeks, at least two dozen Floridians have died of the disease.

Coronavirus didn’t hit all at once and it likely won’t go away anytime soon, but there is impatience to relax the extreme measures taken to reduce the spread of the disease. But our city, county, state and national leaders are told to begin lifting stay-at-home orders and business restrictions when we see the curve flattening.

According to Opening Up America Again guidelines released last week by the White House Coronavirus Task Force, states can enter Phase 1 -- reopening venues such as movie theaters and other non-essential businesses under strict distancing protocols -- after a 14-day decline of documented COVID-19 cases and a robust testing program in place for at-risk healthcare workers and enough beds, ventilators and other needed supplies to treat patients.

Tracking Florida’s COVID-19 cases, deaths over time

What does “flatten the curve” mean, exactly? Medical professionals and public health experts are being called on to help flatten the curve in the chart graph to stagger the rate of coronavirus cases, so hospitals will be able to treat everyone who gets it or needs to be tested.

The chart used widely to illustrate the concept was created on Twitter by Drew Harris, a population health analyst at Thomas Jefferson University in Philadelphia. Harris took a graphic created by journalist Rosamund Pearce, which was based on a chart in a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention paper.

“The ideal goal in fighting an epidemic or pandemic is to completely halt the spread. But merely slowing it -- mitigation -- is critical,” Harris told The New York Times.

So flattening the curve will not reduce the number of people who will become infected or even die from COVID-19, it’s designed to keep it to levels that the health care system and society can handle.

By most standards in most places -- including Florida -- social distancing and other measures have kept our hospitals from being overwhelmed by coronavirus disease patients. While the cases and deaths continue to rise, most communities have avoided a spike.

Researches back up that we have flattened the cure. The most-cited model projecting peaks and total COVID-91 infections and death rates -- the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation at the University of Washington -- has reduced its forecast for positive cases and deaths Florida significantly, forecasting that the state saw its peak of deaths in early April and the state will see 1,363 deaths from COVID-19 by Aug. 4, far lower than the 4,748 the same organization previously projected.

But if 1,363 people in Florida die by early August, that’s almost 500 more than we have lost already to this disease. And what happens beyond August? The

IHME will update its projections again as stay-at-home orders and other social-distancing measures are lifted around the country and warns that the numbers may go back up.

“If people start to go back to normal social interaction or even progressively go back, the risk of transmission will go up,” IHME director Dr. Chris Murray told CNN on Tuesday night. “Then you go back to the sort of exponential rise that was happening before we put in social distancing."

Georgia, where some businesses will reopen as early as Friday, has not seen the worst of the coronavirus, with deaths not forecast to level off until early May and IHME recommends not lifting social-distancing measures until June 19. Southwest Georgia counties around Albany have seen some of the highest per capita infections and death rates in the county and the numbers are still rising.

“That could be setting us back,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said Tuesday. “It certainly isn’t going to be helpful.”

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