Coronavirus and flattening the curve: "This is no time to be selfish"

Dr. Jon LaPook on flattening the curve
Dr. Jon LaPook on flattening the curve 02:58

I know these are unsettling times. Nobody likes to feel out of control. I know I don't. But there are things we can do together to help slow this outbreak, and it all centers around the concept of flattening the curve.

Early on in an epidemic, you see a spike in cases. When that happens, the healthcare system can get totally overwhelmed – not enough healthcare professionals, not enough hospital beds, not enough medical equipment. But if you can somehow do something to "flatten" that curve, to just delay it, then maybe the system won't get that huge pressure on it and it won't crack. 

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CBS News

What do you do to prevent that? Well, it centers around things you've been hearing, things like proper hygiene: Wash your hands for 20 seconds; if you have to cough or sneeze, cough into a tissue or the crook of your arm.

And then there's this social distancing. That basically just means staying away from each other.

Is there evidence that it works? Absolutely. In places like China, South Korea, we're seeing it work.

But in order for it to work, we have to all do it together. We have to all do it everywhere, and we have to do it right now. Not in a month. We may still be doing it in a month, but absolutely right now.

Now, we know that the most vulnerable population are the people who are elderly, and people with serious underlying conditions. But now we've learned in the last week that people in their 20s, 30s and 40s can also get very ill, and even if they don't get very sick, they can have mild symptoms, or even no symptoms, and infect others.

This is no time to be selfish. You have to think about your parents and your grandparents, and we have to listen to our public health officials, and absolutely follow their advice to the letter. No exceptions!

Now at a time like this, I worry about, when we're distancing ourselves physically from each other, how do we stay together emotionally?

If there ever was a time to pick up the phone and just contact somebody else, it's now. Think about in your community. Are there people out there in nursing homes and other places that you can call?

And we have to think out of the box. When Broadway theatres were closed, my friends, producer James Wesley and his husband, musician Seth Rudetsky, said, "The show must go on." So, they've been live-streaming performances by Broadway stars and other entertainers right from their homes.

Last week was "opening night," with Tony Award-winner Kelli O'Hara:

Kelli O'Hara in the "Stars in the House" webcast:

Stars In The House: #1 Kelli O'Hara by The Actors Fund on YouTube

And finally, I just want to remind people that even though this is a very bumpy road, it will have a beginning, a middle, and an end.

Remember that about 80 percent of cases are relatively mild. There are lots of really smart people everywhere around the globe who are working on this, trying to come up with vaccines and drugs.

We are going to get through this. It's going to be a bumpy ride, but we're going to get through it together.

       
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Story produced by Young Kim. Editor: Mike Levine.

  • Jon Lapook
    Jonathan LaPook

    Dr. Jonathan LaPook is the chief medical correspondent for CBS News. Follow him on Twitter at @DrLaPook