Magazine News Volume 69, Issue 8

A Fuzzy Curve

Graphic by Yiying Zhang

Though it may have been an alien term to most only a month ago, “flattening the curve,” or slowing COVID-19’s spread to a level the healthcare system can handle, became a household name in a matter of weeks, justifying an array of measures including Las Lomas’s present school closure and larger stay-at-home orders.

Few places in the United States are as successful in flattening the curve as the Bay Area, especially outside of Santa Clara County, with one March 30 article going so far as to advise others to “Bend it like the Bay Area.” But just as this message brings optimism,  it’s merely based on one statistic – the number of COVID-19 cases – which may be ambiguous, thanks to difficulties in procuring and accessing tests, and because many cases are asymptomatic.

However, measuring deaths because of COVID-19 may be a more reliable indicator, because “most places with established outbreaks in the United States, the sickest patients are getting tested” according to a March 27 article. However, simple extrapolation from death rates are ambiguous too because older populations are more likely to have higher death rates, age must come into consideration.  Although the Bay Area’s average age is similar to the national average – as must the possibility of the virus spreading mainly amongst sicker – older subsets of a community, healthcare systems being overwhelmed, and death rates only accounting for older outbreak levels because victims die of COVID-19 in weeks, not days.

However, both relevant statistics – death rates and confirmed cases – show all signs of their curves being flattened in the Bay Area, with both “case counts and death tolls continue to rise, they are doing so at much slower rates.” Still, that does not mean that the current orders mandating school closures or shelter-in-place will be lifted anytime soon; if anything, current successes will only inspire confidence that these measures work.