News Release

Why “Flatten the Curve” Isn’t Enough

This Financial Times chart (3/16/20) indicates where countries are headed if they continue on their present pandemic path.

JIM NAURECKAS, jnaureckas at fair.org, @JNaureckas

Editor of FAIR’s magazine Extra!, Naureckas just wrote the piece “To Defeat Coronavirus, Media Need to Look at Real-World Examples, Not Play ‘Simulitis,’” which states: “The idea that the best one could hope for is to slow, not stop, the spread of the coronavirus leads to the advice to ‘flatten the curve’ of the peak of infections, as featured in” various media. “The idea is that measures like social distancing and washing one’s hands can lower the rate of infection, spreading cases out enough to keep the healthcare system from collapsing. …

“If the disease is allowed to spread until it’s naturally halted by herd immunity — which is what the ‘flatten the curve’ model presumes — this would mean (assuming a final infection rate of 40 percent) that more than 20 million Americans would need to be hospitalized, and more than 4 million would require intensive care (Health Affairs, 3/17/20)…in a country with less than a million hospital beds and less than 70,000 adult intensive care beds. There is no feasible way to redistribute these cases enough to prevent a total swamping of our hospital capacity. ….

“It’s hard to escape the impression that ‘flattening the curve’ has been offered as a solution because any strategy that aimed at actually stopping the spread of the virus would necessarily have a ruinous economic impact. China’s economy has been ‘devastated’ by the anti-coronavirus drive (CNN, 3/16/20) — though it will no doubt turn out to be doing quite well in comparison with countries that had to impose nationwide lockdowns after acting too late. The price of not stopping the coronavirus, it turns out, is too great for any nation to pay; that’s the lesson the real world is teaching us, and one we have to heed.”