A BLOG ABOUT SCIENCE IN A WORLD OF UNTRUE FACTS.

The Pandemic and Brake Pads

By Kristen Panthagani

I’ve heard a lot of people talk about flattening the curve as if it’s something we do to the virus and then it’s done and over… but this isn’t how it works. Think of the pandemic like driving down a steep hill: we have to go down the hill, but we want to slow down so we don’t lose control. If we push hard on the brake (social distancing), we will slow down… but if we take our foot back off the brake before we’ve made it down the hill, we will speed up again. This is exactly how the spread of the virus works — as long as there is more downhill in front of us (still people in the population who have not gotten immunity to the virus), relaxing social distancing efforts will speed up the rate of new case counts. The more human interaction, the faster the virus will spread.

Somewhere in the Apennines in central Italy. We were probably driving too fast.

Now, before you say “what about the economy?!?”, yes, we need to take care of the economy. The economy is like the brake pads in this example… if we burn them out, we will still be in trouble at the bottom of the hill. So this situation requires the same logic as driving down a steep mountain pass… don’t ride your brakes too hard, and don’t let your speed get out of control. Please don’t assume that someone who is concerned about COVID-19 is not concerned about the economy. I am willing to wager you like $4 that the VAST majority of Americans deeply care about both, but sometimes feel the need to speak out about just one or the other.

All this to say, “re-opening” doesn’t mean that the pandemic is fully under control, it doesn’t mean it’s a good idea to throw a party, and it doesn’t mean that masks are no longer necessary. It means that we’ve slowed down a bit, and we are going to let off the brakes a little so some people can get back to work. But to avoid our speed getting out control, we still need to practice all the social distancing efforts that don’t interfere with people’s ability to go to work: hand washing, mask-wearing, not throwing giant parties, not spitting on strangers, etc.. If we keep doing these things, it will help the economy start to recover (hopefully) without this thing getting crazy again. If we don’t do these things and start acting like the pandemic is now over, my guess is we will have to slam on the breaks again in a few weeks.

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