What really is ‘flattening the curve’ and how long will it last? Experts weigh in.

Posted at 9:33 AM, Mar 22, 2020
and last updated 2020-03-22 09:34:00-04

CLEVELAND — The main goal of closing schools, bars and restaurants, non-essential businesses, canceling group events and working from home is to flatten the curve. Flattening the curve refers to reducing the spike of illnesses at one time that would overwhelm our hospital systems.

We are entering our second week of collective social distancing and the question on so many people’s minds is “How long will this last?”

Dr. Susan Rehm, the vice chairwoman of infectious disease at the Cleveland Clinic, said the answer isn’t exactly black and white.

“I think the social distancing and some of the other measures will go on for several weeks,” she said.

Other experts predict it could go on for several months.

It depends on how effective we are at social distancing and flattening the curve.

“To flatten the curve means to spread out the number of cases over a longer period of time,” said Rehm. “If you think about it, it's like stepping on the accelerator of your car. If you push down hard, you have a lot of speed right away. On the other hand, if you gradually push on the pedal, you can kind of spread out and slowly accelerate.”

A flatter curve could mean around the same amount of people infected, but at a much slower rate, a rate the hospital systems throughout the country can maintain.

“I hope that people understand that social distancing is the most important thing that we can do to keep from having too many cases at once. If we are able to do that successfully, we'll be able to accommodate the cases,” she said.

Rehm stressed the importance of listening to government officials and following measures in place.

“The main thing right now, I think, is to follow the directives that we've been given already. I am very hopeful that that will help to slow the spread, but it's so important to take it seriously If we don't, the consequences could be dire,” she said.

She stressed it’s important to focus on your mental health, too.

“I am very much in favor of people getting out and walking or jogging or fishing or doing any solitary activity outside,” she said. “Solitary or maybe with a friend who can stay a safe distance from you. It is not only good for you physically being out in nature is shown to be good for us in terms of our mental health.”