As COVID-19 continues to spread in the Philippines, more and more businesses are sending employees off to work from home. Schools are closing, universities are holding online classes, cultural institutions are shutting their doors, churches are holding online masses, and major events are getting cancelled. The disruption of daily life for many Filipinos is real and significant – but so are the potential life-saving benefits.
Social distancing, community quarantines and lock-downs, and staying at home is all part of an effort to do what epidemiologists call ‘flattening the curve’ of the pandemic. The idea is to increase social distancing in order to slow the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus, so that you do not get a huge spike in the number of individuals getting sick all at once. If that were to happen, there would not be enough respirators and hospital beds for everyone who needs them, and the Philippine hospital system would be overwhelmed.
Unfortunately, this is slowly happening now in the country – the country is slowly being overwhelmed with the increasing number of confirmed and suspected COVID-19 patients. To combat this, Health Secretary Francisco Duque III is designating three hospitals in Metro Manila to only admit COVID-19 patients: the University of the Philippines-Philippine General Hospital (UP-PGH), a 40-bed wing of the Lung Center of the Philippines (LCP) in Quezon City, and the Jose M. Rodriguez Memorial Hospital in Caloocan City.
What is the Curve?
The ‘curve’ that researchers are talking about refers to the estimated number of people who will contract COVID-19 over a period of time. This is not a firm forecast of how many people will definitely get the virus; rather, it is a hypothetical number that is used to model the spread of the virus.
Depending on the infection rate of the virus, the curve can take on different shapes. It could be a steep curve, in which the virus exponential spreads – that is, the case count keeps doubling consistently – and the total number of cases skyrockets to its peak within a few weeks. Infection curves with a steep rise also have a steep fall – after the virus infects everyone who can be infected, case numbers can start to drop exponentially too.
The faster the infection curve rises, the faster the local health care system gets overloaded beyond its capacity to treat people. As we are now seeing in the Philippines, more and more new COVID-19 patients are being told to stay at home and self-quarantine, and more and more hospitals are running out of the basic supplies they need to respond to the outbreak.
On the other hand, a flatter curve assumes that the same number of individuals ultimately get infected, but over a longer period of time. A slower infection rate means a less strained health care system, fewer hospital visits, and fewer sick people being turned away.
How Do We Flatten the Curve?
Presently, there is no vaccine or medication to treat COVID-19, and because testing is so limited in the Philippines, the only way to flatten the curve is through collective action. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that everyone should wash their hands regularly and properly, self-isolate when they are sick or suspect they might be, and start social distancing right away.
To comply, the Philippine government has implemented community quarantines and lockdowns. In Luzon, where most of the COVID-19 cases are, an enhanced community quarantine has been implemented to contain the spread of the virus. Schools and many businesses have also been closed, and numerous events have been cancelled.
Ways to Flatten the Curve: Social Distancing and Self-Quarantine
There are different ways to flatten the curve – this includes social distancing and self-quarantine.
But, what exactly do these mean?
Social Distancing. While it may be upsetting to hear that so many cruises, festivals, sports events, and other events are being cancelled, there is a public health reason for these measures. These cancellations can help stop or slow down the COVID-19 outbreak, allowing the health care system to more readily care for patients over time.
Cancelling events that are likely to have big crowds is an example of social distancing.
Essentially, social distancing means deliberately increasing the physical space between yourself and other people to avoid spreading the SARS-CoV-2 virus. Staying at least 6 feet away from other people can lessen your chances of getting COVID-19.
Other examples of social distancing that allow you to avoid crowded spaces or larger crowds are:
- Closing schools or holding online classes
- Working from home instead of at the office
- Cancelling or postponing large meetings or conferences
- Avoiding or closing restaurants, bars, and other non-essential public places
- Cancelling or postponing concerts, sporting events, and other large events
- Staying in touch with loved ones through online platforms (i.e. FaceTime, Skype, Facebook Messenger, etc.), rather than visiting them in person
Social distancing is highly important to slow down or stop the spread of COVID-19, particularly for those who are at higher risk of catching the virus. High-risk people include the elderly, those with underlying health problems (i.e. diabetes, high blood pressure), and those with compromised immune systems. By distancing themselves from the public, these high-risk people are able to protect themselves from being exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus, which can be fatal for them.
Even if you are not considered as a high-risk individual, it is still crucial to practice social distancing. By distancing yourself from others, particularly those included in the high-risk categories, you are doing your part by minimizing the likelihood of spreading the virus to other people.
Remember, some people infected with COVID-19 can be asymptomatic – this means that you do not exhibit any of the symptoms. So, even if you are feeling okay and are not experiencing any of the symptoms of COVID-19 (fever, cough, shortness of breath, fatigue), you could still be a carrier of the virus and be a potential threat to others.
Self-Quarantine. People who have been exposed to the SARS-CoV-2 virus and who are at risk for coming down with COVID-19 are encouraged to practice self-quarantine. Health experts suggest that self-quarantine lasts 14 days – this gives enough time for them to determine whether or not they will become ill and be contagious to others.
You might be asked to self-quarantine if you have recently returned from traveling to a part of the country where there have been confirmed COVID-19 cases, or if you have been knowingly exposed to an infected individual.
- Staying at home
- Washing hands frequently and practicing good hygiene
- Not having visitors – be it family members or friends
- Staying at least 6 feet away from other people in your home
- Not sharing things like utensils and towels with anyone
- Disinfecting and cleaning all surfaces in your home often and well
Once your quarantine period has ended and you are not exhibiting any symptoms, follow your doctor’s instructions on how you can return to your normal routine.
The Bottom Line
Flattening the curve refers to how protective measures such as social distancing and self-quarantine can help slow or stop the spread of a virus. It is important to do our best to flatten the curve, because too many people getting infected at the same time can overwhelm hospitals and other healthcare facilities.
When you practice social distancing techniques or self-quarantine, you are doing your part to help protect your health, the health of your loved ones, and the health of the community at large.