The Myth of Curve Flattening

In the midst of the COVID-19 scare came the creation of a novel concept—curve flattening.

In order to prevent global healthcare systems from being overwhelmed by COVID-19, it was proposed governments should put in place measures to spread out the peak of the COVID-19 outbreak—hence curve flattening.

Oddly, the curve flattening theory proposed did not reduce the overall number of hospitalizations—the area under the curve. Rather the principle focused on spreading out the number of hospitalizations over a longer duration. This in turn would reduce the number of peak in citizens seeking medical attention over any given period to a manageable level limiting the impact on healthcare systems.

It all sounded so reasonable, so convincing.

But was it real?

Is it actually possible to flatten the spread of COVID-19 or any infectious disease?

Sadly, it’s all a myth.

It’s a case of theory running smack into reality.

Theoretically, if one could control the rate of infections that led to hospitalizations, then it might be possible to flatten the curve.

But here’s the rub: one would have to be able to control the rate of infection.

It is this control aspect that makes curve flattening so unrealistic.

Governments would have to control a virus that doesn’t always present symptoms in those infected.

This would necessarily mean every man, woman, and child would have to be tested for COVID-19.

But it doesn’t stop there.

That testing would have to be continuous.

This presents four practical problems: dormant cases, time lag, compliance and recovery time.

There would be no way to identify dormant cases, those cases that would not be caught by the test, giving those who tested negative a false sense of security they didn’t carry the COVID-19 virus.

Second, there is the time lag between testing and the results being reported.

This time lag could be substantial if every man, woman, and child in America had to be tested on a continuous basis. This would severely curtail the government’s ability to identify those infected.

This is not solely an issue of the availability of test kits.

The bigger concern would be the limited laboratory facilities available to process the test kits.

Processing times would sky rocket—thus thwarting any curve flattening scheme.

Then there is compliance.

Even if someone were confirmed to be a carrier of COVID-19 there is no way to guarantee that person would self-quarantine. And there’s no realistic means for the U.S. government to enforce compliance.

In addition, the recovery time would have to be short.

In order to reduce the impact to hospitals and free up hospital beds, which is the main focus of the curve flattening strategy, the recovery time would necessarily have to be short.

In effect, hospitals would have to have the ability to turn over their beds in order to receive new cases.

Given the requirements for curve flattening to work—it’s clear it wouldn’t.

Ultimately, the spread of COVID-19, as with all infectious diseases, becomes a numbers game.

Factor in a highly mobile society, such as America, and the myth of curve flattening becomes painfully obvious.

The truth is curve flattening was never vigorously or even mildly challenged.

If it had been, the inherent flaws of the curve flattening theory would have been immediately exposed.

Instead, curve flattening took on a life all of its own—it went viral.

This led to mayors and governors imposing ill-conceived draconian measures from New York to California.

Those politicians ignored common sense, crippling their economies and in the process put hard working Americans in financial peril—all in the name of the myth of curve flattening.

Sadly, the draconian measures imposed by the misguided will have little to no impact on the spread of COVID-19.

Ultimately it will be other factors that determine the severity of the COVID-19 outbreak.

First, the transmission or infection rate—this rate remains largely unknown and likely will not be known until well after COVID-19 has passed—but this rate is key to our understanding the ultimate spread of the virus.

Second, the number of seed cases—those cases where an infection has been brought into the country from outside U.S. borders. (Read: Has COVID-19 Been with Us All Along?)

Third, the dispersion of the virus—is the dispersal of the virus localized or wide spread?

Fourth, compliance of the populace—will the American populace take common sense precautions to limit the exposure of infection?

Frankly, if the COVID-19 virus is highly transmissible there is no way to stop its spread no matter what precautions the government imposes.

This is the myth of curve flattening; it was never going to accomplish what its originator claimed.

Sadly, too many misguided policy makers took the myth to heart—leading to foolish policies that had only one effect—crippling the economy.  

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