You might have heard about "flattening the curve" during this outbreak. It's been trending on Twitter, you've heard about it on the news, and your friends might have brought it up a few times. But, what exactly does it mean? 

If you have COVID-19, you will infect around 2.5 other people if we go about our daily lives. Doesn't seem that bad, right? Well, let's say that happens, and then each of the 2.5 people you infected, go and get 2.5 more people sick, and then each of those people go and get another 2.5 people sick...

It's like starting at 2, and then going to 4, then 8, then 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, etc. That first 2 or 4 doesn't seem so bad, but suddenly we're hitting 512 before we realize. 

Okay, so we get that, but what's this curve? 

The idea is this: if we decide to stay indoors, and not go out and get those 2.5 people sick, the math won't go as crazy. The reason that's SO important is really basic: hospitals. Hospitals simply don't have the capacity to handle that crazy growth over a short period of time, which leads to the depressing idea of people in Boston being refused care because we've ran out of beds/doctors/ventilators. 

Source: CDC

Now, this graphic should make more sense. The red area is the "doubles" we were talking about, where the number of cases just keeps growing. The grey is what happens with social distancing. And that dotted line is what our hospitals can safely handle. 

This explains why Boston Public Schools took the incredibly difficult decision of closing schools. Countless families are now left scrambling for food, childcare, and money. It's an incredibly difficult situation to be in. So why did BPS shut down? Because they understand this curve and the need for it to flatten.

Hopefully, now you do too. 

Image via Wikimedia Commons