Pick any regular day and you’ll find most health systems nationwide running close to full capacity. So an influx of patients associated with COVID-19 could not only tip that tenuous balance, but reduce the quality of care for everyone—COVID-19 patients as well as those seeking care for cancer, trauma, or pregnancy complications.

It’s why the notion of “flattening the curve”—reducing the skyrocketing increase in cases that emerge at once—is so critical, according to Michael Mina, MD, PhD, Associate Medical Director of Clinical Microbiology at Brigham and Women’s Hospital. “It’s slowing things down so this doesn’t hit us like a brick wall,” he says. “And it’s borne out of the risk of our health care infrastructure pulling apart at the seams if too many people start showing up at the emergency room at any given time.”

To do so, Dr. Mina adds, we need full public engagement in health interventions and behavioral change, and top-down leadership with clear guidelines. “Without a very clear signal coming from our government at the national level, it’s really just a small trickle as people start to recognize that this is happening,” he adds.

Learn more about “flattening the curve” in STAT.

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