In life, I tend to avoid the red. The red of a negative bank account balance, the red on my child’s face pending a four-year-old nuclear temper tantrum, or the red on my alarm clock alerting me to wake-up and go to work. Whatever the red is, I want to avoid it at all costs. The Coronavirus disease (COVID-19) is no different. For any community, avoiding the red means to flatten the coronavirus curve.

The first time I saw the phrase “Flattening the Curve” it appeared on a flyer at a public office. It’s red and blue graphic art informed people they could slow the spread of the Coronavirus disease by following a few simple steps including social distancing, self-quarantine, and self-isolation when sick. The simple illustration contained two bell-shaped curves graphed across axes of time and number of COVID-19 cases. One very steep curvature was in red labeled “without protective measures” and a second gradual slope curvature was in blue labeled “with protective measures.” A dotted line just above the gradual blue curve, indicated the health care system’s capacity which nearly cut the red curve in half.

When I saw this graph, my mind instantly began to play out an action movie scene: my inner hero was discovered in the bad guy’s lair; the alarm bell sounded; the red caution lights began flashing; and a robotic voice kept repeating “warning, warning” over my internal sound system. It was time to avoid that red and become the hero by flattening the curve.

So, what does flattening the coronavirus curve really mean? And why is it important for Gallatin County residents to help “flatten the curve” and avoid the red?  Basically – red curve bad, blue curve good.

What “flatten the coronavirus curve” means

The phrase “flatten the curve” and its accompanying graphic is an easy way for health officials to demonstrate how reducing the risk of exposure and illness rates in the community can lessen the likeliness of a surge in new cases of COVID-19 – aka the red curve on the graph. If our community can slow the spread of the virus by each individual following a few precautions, we can reduce the potential of a red curve to avoid unnecessary suffering and potentially death.

As the New York Times points out, flattening the curve can give the medical community much needed time to prepare, as well as help avoid overwhelming medical providers, supplies, and treatment space by reducing a spike in illness rates. A flatter, blue curve is much better than an alarming, red one – but it’s going to take the whole community.

How to flatten the curve

Like an action hero, we need to become armed with reliably-sourced information and then put on our super hero capes by implementing what we’ve learned on slowing the spread of COVID-19. According to information on the Center for Disease Control, COVID-19 is mainly spread from person-to-person between people who are in close contact (within 6 feet) of one another. The CDC states that COVID-19 may be spread before a person exhibits symptoms, but it is mainly spread through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. This is where “social distancing” and “shelter-at-home” techniques for mitigating the spread of COVID-19 become essential to flattening the curve.

While canceling recreational activities, avoiding travel and in-person social gatherings may be frustrating and challenging, they are essential methods of decreasing exposure and the spread of COVID-19 and can ultimately save lives. Let “The Flattening” begin – let your inner action-hero out, arm yourself with knowledge and avoid the red.

Jasmine Hall, 29, is a native Montanan who lives in Bozeman with her boyfriend and 4-year-old daughter. She has a BA in journalism and media studies, previously worked as a newspaper reporter, and is Recording Supervisor at the Gallatin County Clerk & Recorder’s Office.