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Here's Why Staying Home During The Coronavirus Outbreak Matters

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Source: CDC, Drew Harris (Connie Hanzhang Jin/NPR)
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Public schools are closing, universities are holding classes online, major events are getting canceled, and cultural institutions are shutting their doors. The disruption of daily life for many Americans is real and significant -- but so are the potential life-saving benefits.

It's all part of an effort to do what epidemiologists call flattening the curve of the pandemic. The idea is to increase social distancing in order to slow the spread of the virus, so that you don't get a huge spike in the number of people getting sick all at once. If that were to happen, there wouldn't be enough hospital beds or mechanical ventilators for everyone who needs them, and the U.S. hospital system would be overwhelmed. That's already happening in Italy.

The tan curve represents a scenario in which the U.S. hospital system becomes inundated with coronavirus patients. If we can delay the spread of the virus so that new cases aren't popping up all at once, but rather over the course of weeks or months, people would still get infected. But it would be at a rate that the health care system could actually keep up with -- a scenario represented by the more gently sloped blue curve on the graph.

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