In the flattening of the curve diagram, wouldn’t both curves represent roughly equal populations? So only the peak changes, not the overall total?

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I guess this could be considered mathematics or economics, really, it is statistics.

In: Mathematics

Correct. I think the bigger point of “flattening the curve” was to not overwhelm the hospitals with too many patients at once. So about the same amount of people get sick, but over a longer period of time instead of all at once.

ELI5 – If a hospital only has room for 10 sick people, better to only have to treat 1 person per week for 10 weeks, instead of 10 people at once.

Yep! The purpose of “flattening the curve” is not to decrease totals but to spread out incidences.

So for example, with COVID-19 we want to flatten the curve because if we spread the same number of cases out over a longer period of time, the medical system is less likely to be overwhelmed. If a small hospital has one critically ill patient every week for 20 weeks, they will be better able to give each patient complete/high quality care than if they had 20 critically ill patients at once in the same week. The hope is to increase quality of care. So case numbers stay the same, but there will be a lower mortality rate.

That is exactly true if you discount advances in testing, tracking, treatment, prevention, and vaccination. For practical purposes, those variables are indeed discounted in today’s curves. There is the hope however, that the end total will be reduced by delaying the curve. That hope becomes more realistic and reasonable the more we delay the curve.

Not necessarily — there is a lot of confusion/misinformation about this.

Flattening the curve not only decreases the peak (and all that comes from overwhelming your medical system), but it also decreases how fast the virus spreads (the “R0”). Lowering the R0 lowers the total number of people affected by a substantial percentage.

This is entirely separate from other things you get by adding more time (like vaccines, better treatment options, and so on).