March 16, 2020

COVID-19 cases are rising exponentially. But with swift and decisive action, we all can help prevent the spread of the virus and “flatten the curve.”

An epidemic curve is how we measure the spread of a virus over time. When too many cases occur in too short a timeframe, the health system can become overwhelmed. That makes it hard for people to get the treatment they need. 

Most health systems are already operating at near capacity during flu season. They can quickly become overwhelmed when too many people get too sick at once, or when many people who could otherwise be treated at home seek care at the hospital. Across the globe, COVID-19 cases have already begun to flood hospitals.

Dr. Carlos Crespo, Professor in the OHSU-PSU School of Public Health and Vice Provost at PSU, says everyone needs to do their part right now to prevent the medical system from being overwhelmed.

“This is one of those cases where we have to make some difficult decisions,” Dr. Crespo says. “We have to. We must. Viruses do not discriminate. They do not see borders, they do not see race, and viruses are also invisible.” 

How do we flatten the curve? 

Today health experts and elected officials across Oregon are asking residents to practice physical distancing. Here are some examples of physical distancing:
  • Avoiding crowds, shaking hands, and being in close proximity with other people

  • Avoiding public places except for essential activities such as grocery shopping or doctor’s appointments

  • Canceling in-person classes at universities, colleges and schools

  • Working from home whenever possible

These measures need to be taken in addition to things we should already be doing, like washing our hands and making sure we take care of our bodies to keep our immune systems strong. Then there are the common steps like covering our cough and staying home when we feel ill.

Under normal circumstances, Dr. Crespo says, physical distancing measures would be extraordinary. But during a pandemic, he says, everyone needs to go to great lengths to protect themselves and others. Even if you don’t feel sick, you could be transmitting the virus to others--including older adults and vulnerable people who are at a greater risk for severe cases.

“We know this virus is going to spread,” Dr. Crespo says. “Even if you’re not experiencing symptoms, you could spread the virus. We can’t make the assumption that if you’re feeling well you’re not passing the virus.”