If U.S. doesn’t ‘flatten the curve,’ severe cases of COVID-19 will overrun health system | PBS NewsHour

Judy Woodruff:

One term you’re likely hearing a lot about to help deal with the coronavirus is what’s known as flattening the curve.

Epidemiologists say, if not enough protective measures are taken, there’ll be a sharply rising number of cases, as shown in this pale blue spike, a huge jump over a very short period of time. That would strain the capacity of our health system.

But flattening the curve, reflected by the lower gray swell, is achieved by taking strong measures, like physical and social distancing, to make sure the number of cases increases more gradually.

Dr. Asaf Bitton has been talking about this very issue. He’s with Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. And he joins us now.

Dr. Bitton, between Washington and the states, are the American people now being given enough guidance to induce them to do the right thing?

So while people who work perhaps in nonessential services may want to continue that work, and I’m very sympathetic to it, unfortunately, the speed of the rise of this epidemic may make necessary more involuntary closures or restrictions.

Asaf Bitton:

Well, we have — according to the American Hospital Association a couple of years ago, we have a little over 900,000 beds. We have about 50,000 medical ICU beds that are staffed and another 50,000 other type of ICU beds that are staffed, and, in total, about 160,000 vents.

What that means is, even in a moderate scenario, like predicted by the John Hopkins Center for Health Security, if it came at once, we wouldn’t really have the capacity. That would overwhelm that existing capacity.

So what is needed now is for people to take the community mitigation and social distancing strategies to flatten the curve, to spread that out, so that, if those cases emerge — and it’s hard to predict, but it’s possible at this point — it at least can emerge over an increased amount of time.

Otherwise, this is going to be very difficult on our health system and our health care workers.

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