Some people are wondering why all the closures and what may seem like drastic actions are being taken in the face of a very infectious respiratory disease, COVID-19, that is sweeping around the world but has not yet made a confirmed appearance in the Northwoods.
Why be so emphatic that people must restrict activities that put them in contact with other people? Why has the state ordered public gatherings be kept to fewer than 10 people?
One reason is to try to stop the spread and to help protect the whole population but especially those who are most likely to be least able to combat it if they contract it: the elderly, especially those with underlying serious health problems.
Another major reason is what is called “flattening the curve.”
What it boils down to is if a lot of people get COVID-19 all at once, the medical facilities will be overwhelmed and will not have the capacity to take care of everyone who is sick. More people could die.
Keeping the rate of spread low enough that everyone who gets it can be medically cared for could save lives.
“The whole point is, we have a limited opportunity to flatten that curve,” Washburn County Public Health Director Cheri Nickell said on Monday, March 16. If the spread rate picks up, it would be too late to start preventative measures.
Most people who get the disease will recover. For those who it affects seriously – pneumonia is a complicating factor that could prove fatal, for instance – having enough hospital beds with ventilators will be a critical factor in saving people’s lives.
If measures are not in place early enough to slow the spread, then suddenly many people could get sick at the same time, Nickell said.
“You have this big curve that goes way above capacity, then really hard decisions that nobody wants to have to make are going to have to be made, and that’s what’s happening in Italy right now,” she said.
Without enough ventilators and intensive care beds, people will be told nothing can be done for them, she said. “You’re just going to have to go home and either die or get better on your own. And people are dying. And I think that this country would be pretty unhappy if we were telling 80-year-olds, ‘You’re out of luck. We just don’t have enough to take care of you.’ That’s not something that we want to have happen in this country.
“And that’s why they’re being so proactive about putting these measures into place, so we can lower that curve. Are people going to still get sick? Yes, they are. And a lot of us are, but we just don’t want it to be all at the same time.”
She said people do not need to panic, they just need to be thoughtful about their social distancing and good hand hygiene.
And, she stressed, do not tough your face. The disease can enter the body through the eyes, nose, and mouth.
“I was in a meeting,” Nickell said, “and 10 of the 12 people at the table all touched their eyes or face. It’s hard not to. We need to stop doing that.”