You likely have been hearing that we need to "flatten the curve" when it comes to coronavirus. But what exactly does that mean? The curve that epidemiologists and public health experts are referring to is the curve that represents the exponential growth as a virus spreads. For every patient that has coronavirus, the World Health Organization believes that it will be spread to at least two other people.
Those number of cases will eventually peak at a certain point. Without any interventions like treatments or vaccines, there's nothing to stop that spread. But as people, we can slow down the spread of the virus. We can reduce our interactions, travel less and avoid situations like concerts, sporting events and bars, where we might transmit the virus. These kind of actions are called social distancing.
By taking these measures, we hope we can slow the spread. Even if there are ultimately the same number of cases, there aren't as many sick patients overwhelming our health care system at once. Just take a look at the graph above. That first peak is what happens if we don't enact any behavioral interventions; you can see how he curve peaks significantly above the line that represents our health care system's capacity to take of patients. That second – lower curve – that's social distancing. It still goes over that line showing our health care system's capacity, but it doesn't overwhelm it in the same way the first curve does.
This might mean that you can't meet your friends for dinner as often. For kids, it may mean fewer playdates or birthday parties. But, it's important to remember that this is all something we have to do. Even though young people are less likely to have severe disease if they contract the coronavirus, they can still spread it to others who are more vulnerable – people who are elderly or have underlying conditions.
Children's coronavirus cases are less severe, but that doesn't make them less serious
Young kids are well known to be germy. It's easy for them to spread germs among each other just by passing toys around or drinking out of each other's cups. But what's interesting about the novel coronavirus is that kids seem to be particularly resilient to this virus. According to data from China, kids aren't getting the virus in as high numbers, and even more importantly – when they do get it – the cases aren't as severe. Out of nearly 45,000 confirmed cases in China through February 11, there was only one death in someone younger than 20, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. There were no deaths among children younger than 10. Another study of cases in China found that just 6% of children's cases were considered to be severe, compared with 18.5% of adults experiencing severe symptoms.
But just because kids don't present symptoms as severely doesn't mean they aren't spreading the disease. Dr. Arthur Reingold, an epidemiologist at UC Berkeley, said it's likely that the number of cases in children is underreported, in part because their symptoms are so minimal or mild. "We have to assume that they can spread it. They're incredibly efficient at spreading other respiratory viruses like influenza," he said. "Of course, this is a different virus and it could be different."
It's that thinking that has pushed public officials to close schools across the country.
Coronavirus anxiety and how to get calm
There's no question that these are anxious times. But we have to remember to take care of ourselves, as well. Self-care is important. How can you take a breather when it seems like there's news breaking all the time? Remember to step away from it. There's a lot of information out there. Curate it – find a few trustworthy sources and stick with them. Don't update yourself every five minutes. This can be as simple as disabling the notifications on your phone and just checking in at planned intervals.
Another thing to do to calm yourself: Take action. Action can allay our anxieties, so you may want to also consider what you can do to help others who might be affected by the outbreak. Service workers, health care workers, hourly workers and people in the restaurant or entertainment industries may have their livelihoods paralyzed or have to put themselves in disproportionate danger. Think about how you can help those whose lives are facing disruption. It can help both your
Is it allergies, the flu or the coronavirus?
The symptoms for all three can sound similar: irritated eyes, headaches, runny nose and aches. So how can you tell the difference? Listen to your body and it might give you some clues. For example, do you notice you get the same symptoms around the same time every year? If so, it's likely an allergy. Allergies tend to be much more localized symptoms. But if your whole body aches and your whole body doesn't seem to be quite the same, consider that it is more likely the flu. Shortness of breath – that could be a sign of coronavirus.
Pay attention to your temperature. It's very unlikely that allergies would result in a fever. They usually don't cause shortness of breath either, unless you have a preexisting condition like asthma. Allergies tend to be much milder in symptoms and occur more regularly.