Governor Roy Cooper closed schools across the state on Saturday. It was the right thing to do. The coronavirus that is spreading rapidly across the country right now can’t be stopped but it might be slowed. They call it bending the curve or flattening the curve. If we can do that, we might be able to keep our health care systems from getting overwhelmed and save some lives.

Right now, we have two countries that seem to have altered the rate of infection. In China, where the virus originated, a strict quarantine in affected areas seems to have stopped the spread. They built a huge hospital in just ten days and then separated infected people or locked them in their houses. Videos showed people in hazmat suits literally pulling people off the streets and loading them into trucks. It was brutal but effective. After a month of an almost total lock down, the areas reported no new cases. 

In South Korea, the country implemented massive testing. They’re now testing up to 10,000 people per day. Anyone who tests positive, whether they show symptoms or not, is quarantined. So far, they’ve bent the curve, or slowed the spread of the disease, preventing their health care system from being overloaded. The disease will continue to spread but more slowly. The tests also give better data to track the disease both demographically and geographically.

We’re not an authoritarian state, so we won’t follow China’s model. Unfortunately, we didn’t prepare for the pandemic and lack the tests that South Korea has. Until we can get more tests, our approach is social distancing. We’re trying to reduce contact with people as much as possible. The virus is easily spread by human interaction so the government is asking people stay away from one another in an attempt to slow its progression.

Right now, people who have the coronavirus will infect three more people. That’s what causes the rapid spread. Health officials want to reduce that rate by about half. We probably have lot of asymptomatic carriers in our midst and without testing we can’t know who they are. That’s why they want us to stay away from each other.  While social distancing won’t stop the spread, it might slow the proliferation of cases so hospitals to get enough resources to deal with the inevitable onslaught of patients. 

The government and health care professionals are asking us to step up as a country and try to collectively slow the spread of the disease. So stay inside, work from home, avoid contacting people directly and bend the curve. It’s a matter of life and death.  

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