Friday, March 13th, 2020, was the last day classes with students were held at my school. Monday, March 16th--one year ago today--was the first school day without them. Here's what we were looking at a year ago:
Health officials take for granted that COVID-19 will continue to infect millions of people around the world over the coming weeks and months. However, as the outbreak in Italy shows, the rate at which a population becomes infected makes all the difference in whether there are enough hospital beds (and doctors, and resources) to treat the sick.
In epidemiology, the idea of slowing a virus' spread so that fewer people need to seek treatment at any given time is known as "flattening the curve." It explains why so many countries are implementing "social distancing" guidelines — including a "shelter in place" order that affects 6.7 million people in Northern California, even though COVID-19 outbreaks there might not yet seem severe.
Here's what you need to know about the curve, and why we want to flatten it...
As there is currently no vaccine or specific medication to treat COVID-19, and because testing is so limited in the U.S., the only way to flatten the curve is through collective action. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has recommended that all Americans wash their hands frequently, self-isolate when they're sick or suspect they might be, and start "social distancing" (essentially, avoiding other people whenever possible) right away.
To comply, many states have temporarily closed public schools, and many businesses have advised employees to work from home if possible. On March 15, the CDC advised that all events of 50 people or more should be canceled or postponed for the next eight weeks. On Monday (March 16), six counties in the Bay Area — encompassing some 6.7 million people — gave "shelter in place" orders, meaning that people should not leave their house except to get essentials like food or medicine...
So, does flattening the curve work?
It did in 1918, when a strain of influenza known as the Spanish flu caused a global pandemic.
Here we are a year later, and today we were notified that next week, some students will return to campus for part-time instruction. That is the so-called hybrid model, where I have to teach each of my five classes twice--once in the morning for in-person students, and once in the afternoon for distance students. Hybrid combines the worst of in-school learning and distance learning into one, easy-to-despise plan! To be honest, I'd rather continue in distance learning than switch to this hybrid, but as a colleague pointed out today, perhaps this hybrid is good--because it gets us closer to real school, and if we don't do it, we might not even have real school starting in August. So there's that.
A year ago, I was fully behind the effort to "flatten the curve". I would not have believed then, and can scarcely believe now, that a year later we're still closing schools and businesses, forcing people to wear masks, and pretending that all this is making us safer. Is it kabuki theater, or a cargo cult? We've gone from spreading out infections so that hospitals can handle the load to living in terror until every last 'rona virus is eradicated from the planet.
Talk about bizarro world.