We canceled our plans, minimized our trips to the grocery store and drinking drinks with friends via Skype instead of a bar table. Many of us work from home, work less, or have lost our jobs. We have trouble finding child care and we can’t take our increasingly nervous kids to the zoo or even to the playground on the street.
All this in the name of “flattening the curve”. But does it make a difference?
We are very concerned about this issue as Albertans continue to crouch at home, obsessively wash their hands and log in daily to hear the latest case numbers from Dr. Deena Hinshaw.
How many more COVID-19 cases today? How does this compare to yesterday? Is this damn curve getting flatter?
According to experts, the answer is: be patient.
The virus takes a long time to incubate, they note. And although Alberta has successfully completed more tests, faster than any other province, it can take days between taking a swab from your nose and getting your results. All of this adds to a fairly large gap between the social distancing measures we take and the effects of these measures which appear in the number of daily cases.
It is too early to say if we are out of the woods.
But there is good news, at least about how things are going elsewhere.
“At least we have blunted the curve”
At this point, the main goal is to avoid overwhelming our health care system with a sudden surge of cases that it cannot handle.
We have seen the horrific consequences of this in Italy and Spain, where hospitals are overwhelmed and the morgues too. People living in New York are urged to prepare for an impending outbreak, as well as cases and deaths in the state continue to increase rapidly.
Compared to places like these, Dr. Craig Jenne says that Alberta seems to be on a better track so far.
“Certainly compared to Europe, compared to the United States, we have seen much less community sharing of this virus,” said Jenne, professor of microbiology, immunology and infectious diseases at the University. from Calgary.
While it is too early to tell if we are flattening the curve, Jenne said Alberta seemed to have gotten off to a better start and faster in responding to the COVID-19 epidemic.
“At least we have blunted the curve,” he said.
This can be difficult to see, looking at the latest figures. On Tuesday, 57 new cases of COVID-19 were confirmed in the province, marking the largest single-day increase to date and bringing the total number of known cases to 358.
But consider it that way.
China, at the fastest stage of its epidemic, saw the number of COVID-19 cases double every two days. Italy and Iran too.
In contrast, cases in Alberta doubled approximately every three days.
It may not sound like a big difference. But look at the table below to see how fast it adds up.
If anything, the growth rate seems to slow down, very slightly – at least in the graph. (That this reflects a real the change in the rate of spread, in reality, is another matter, which requires more evidence to determine with confidence.)
But for the pleasure of reading the table: See the lower dotted line? This indicates a doubling rate every three days. The red line, which indicates the confirmed cases, was above this dotted line a week ago but yesterday just below it, indicating that the pace of expansion has slowed.
Of course, these are early figures that do not yet deserve to be celebrated. The number of cases will continue to increase, but this is expected, almost inevitable, at this stage. What the experts are observing at the moment, at least, is this growth rate.
“It’s all about the rate of increase,” said Dr. Lynora Saxinger, who studies infectious diseases at the University of Alberta.
“If each person infects less than another person, it will turn around.”
At the moment, however, this is not the case. And she expects the number of new COVID-19 infections to continue to increase for some time, even with the measures we have taken to combat the spread of the disease.
Much of the growth we are seeing right now, she says, has indeed been integrated. The infections occurred before many social distancing measures were put in place.
“Everyone who fell ill was likely in contact with someone before the restrictions, and it can take seven to 14 days to develop visible symptoms,” she said. “So what we are seeing right now always reflects what was going on before we started making changes in our social structure.”
There are always exhibitions from up to 2 weeks ago
Alberta Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Deena Hinshaw (and, increasingly, a household name in Alberta) says it’s important to keep in mind the time between infection and test results.
“We must remember that, because the incubation period is 14 days, it would take two weeks from the implementation of a new measure to see what effect it could have,” she said. declared.
“So I think we should expect that there will be additional new cases that we will see, because we are still seeing after-effects of exposures that occurred up to two weeks ago.”
Another thing to remember is that the social distancing measures did not happen suddenly. New protocols have been gradually introduced, almost on a daily basis, and it takes time for people to learn, think and comply.
All of this adds to the lag between social distancing measures and, hopefully in the future, reduces infection rates.
“It won’t be in the next few days,” said Hinshaw. “It will be over the next few weeks.”
In the grand scheme of the pandemic, Jenne is cautiously optimistic about the situation in Alberta.
“We really flatten the curve with respect to what could happen, “he said.
“Should we flatten it more? Absolutely. If we don’t want to overload hospitals, we have to slow down even more. But if you compare that to Italy, Spain, the United States, we are surpassing some of our close friends. And, therefore, we pushed that curve. “