2409: Steepen the Curve

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Steepen the Curve
1. Flatten the curve. 2. Steepen the curve. 3. Hang out.
Title text: 1. Flatten the curve. 2. Steepen the curve. 3. Hang out.


This comic is another in a series of comics related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

In early 2020, the COVID-19 pandemic rapidly became the main public concern. The virus spread at an exponential rate before initial lockdowns started to reduce the trajectory for a time. The graphic drawn in black depicts exponential growth in the measure of deaths — though it is not clear (without proper units or values on either axis) if this is because it is a cumulative count of deaths or the rate of deaths per day. Such graphs were common in the spring of 2020, enough that Randall has previously parodied them in 2294: Coronavirus Charts. These graphs often showed future projections that compared continued exponential growth vs. curves that did not grow as fast, or even flattened out. Governments around the world realized that if the trend was to continue healthcare services would become overwhelmed, thus all kinds of political, civic and personal efforts were put towards doing things that would cause the 'curve' to flatten and not rise as rapidly as it would do unchecked. "Flatten the curve" thus became the rallying cry for all measures taken to reduce the spread of the virus.

In 2021, the pandemic is ongoing (with second or even third 'waves' of resurgence affecting some populations that had temporarily flattened the curve) but now we have a handful of vaccines available. In 2278: Scientific Briefing, White Hat remarked that many scientific briefings use similar or identical charts, but in this briefing, a chart from the beginning of the pandemic is reprinted verbatim and then crudely updated with red ink. The red overlay intends to update the 'original' graphic to portray the number of vaccines provided (again, it could easily be either cumulative or rate-wise). With the change to what is represented, the line remains the same but the hoped-for outcome is changed accordingly. Making the curve steeper represents getting more people vaccinated faster.

In both cases, there would be an upper limit on the cumulative value, but the ceiling must be well beyond the upper limits (x and y axes) of this graph. If this is a rate-graph, it would show a peak and subsequent decline at the same point in time where a cumulative graph would show an inflection in its gradient, but neither are visible here.

Additionally, the analogy between the number of deaths and the number of vaccinated people could be considered as questionable, as the number of deaths in the initial stages of a pandemic is expected to follow an exponential law, whereas the same cannot be said for the number of vaccinated people.

The title text gives a summary of the overall goal. Flatten the curve (of infections/deaths), Steepen the curve (of vaccinations/immunizations), Hang out. We've done the first, we're starting the second... and the third is where we can (hopefully) all hang out together again, in person, without masks or social distancing. But we have to finish the first two steps successfully to get to the third one.


[Line graph shown with a rising curve drawn in black. There is an underlined label above and another label below the graph. The Y-axis line is ending in an arrowhead and also has a label. All this is in black. But the last number in the upper label as well as one word in each of the other two labels, have been scribbled out in red and then another number or word has been written behind or beneath in red.]
[Caption above the graph:]
COVID Deaths Vaccinations
[Caption below the graph:]
Flatten Steepen The Curve

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My first transcript. Please improve on it so I can see how dumb I am at it.The 𝗦𝗾𝗿𝘁-𝟭 talk stalk 03:29, 9 January 2021 (UTC)

Nice first try. I only added a bit more detail to the explanation of the drawing. --Kynde (talk) 15:42, 9 January 2021 (UTC)

Was the curve to be flattened always deaths? I thought it was covid cases in general, but I never really thought about it in depth. Captain Video (talk) 04:10, 9 January 2021 (UTC)

Well, given the tight ratio (in the early days, anything done at the treatment end that further decreased the deaths per cases was a bonus to all other efforts concentrating on keeping treatable cases down in the first place, but conversely added to any overloading of the respective healthcare system with a degree of extended aftercare, etc) I think it was effectively equivalent. But I never really considered it in so much depth (or width, or deadth) at the time either. It's clear this is an (unspecific) snapshot of the initial surge. 05:01, 9 January 2021 (UTC)
Death count is just convenient to measure (as opposed to case count or recovery without relapse count). bubblegum-talk|contribs 05:05, 9 January 2021 (UTC)
I remember the discussion in March and April 2020 to "flatten the curve" was primarily to flatten the rate of contagion (and by extension the rate illness) in order to preserve medical resources. There was never any notion that we could stop people from dying, only that by flattening the curve we could postpone the consequences of the disease, including postponing the deaths. We also have gained knowledge about what treatments are most effective, and that helps a lot. Because of Operation Warpspeed and scientific advances we now have vaccines in an unprecedented short period of time, so that if we can continue to keep the contagion rate low enough we will eventually have enough people vaccinated that the number of disease cases (and deaths) will drop off dramatically. Hang in there a little longer and we will make it. Rtanenbaum (talk) 15:56, 9 January 2021 (UTC)
I always heard about flattening the curve in context of number of cases requiring hospitalization. And the idea was specifically to keep the curve UNDER the line which represented capacity of hospitals to handle those cases. -- Hkmaly (talk) 06:43, 10 January 2021 (UTC)
That sounds most correct to me: the effort was to flatten the curve of infections to prevent hospital (specifically) and other medical (generally) capacity from being overwhelmed. We'd do this by reducing the rate of infections through sanitary and safety measures. There was a lot of talk of trying to get the basic reproduction number R0 as close to 1 as possible to limit that exponential growth curve we're all so familiar with now. Transmissibility of the disease is not the same as mortality, though of course they are correlated. Preventing deaths was intended as a happy bonus effect of preventing the medical system from collapsing. I think it's worth rewording the explanation, even though the comic does use a chart of deaths rather than infections - they look very similar under a functioning medical system. -- 07:11, 10 January 2021 (UTC)
Note that R0, the "Basic Reproduction Number is, at its strictest, not alterable in any way at all (although it may be reassessed). It is the measure of effectiveness (but not speed, as it isn't defined in terms of time) of viral transfer in a parricular population, given that they are all unpreinfected (save for the seeds it spreads from), unvaccinated and otherwise precautionless/naïve about the 'threat'. You can lower the instantaneous/effective R (mostly called "the R-value", probably to appease those similarly pedantic, but also Rt or Re), as a measure of how you are suppressing it, but R0 is (per situation or grouping concerned) not changeable after the fact. Except by recalculating with new historical insights that don't change the current reality, just perhaps help explain how we got here. 01:46, 11 January 2021 (UTC)
Explainxkcd is one of my favorite things in the world.. this is my first comment. I'm hesitant to make a major edit without discussion, but I think the statement about 2nd and 3rd waves could be much, much stronger to the point of this being a dangerous message to be sending right now. About three days ago Science published a piece "Viral mutations may cause another ‘very, very bad’ COVID-19 wave, scientists warn , read the link but contains take your pick of alarming quotes, with a conclusion of "It’s dispiriting to feel like the world is back where it was in early 2020, says epidemiologist William Hanage of the Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. “But we have to stop this virus. … Fatalism is not a nonpharmaceutical intervention.” I think this comic works against the conclusions of what seems to be a consensus of experts and that that is worth saying.. many people read xkcd, and the curve omits a reasonably likely scenario.. that we begin to see what the death rate looks like when a fresh shock to transmission dynamics rate hits multiple maxed out regions that are already beyond their maximum hospital capacity. But I'm a bit unsure of the etiquette, if one exists, for saying that a comic works against the public interest. Seems like a pretty strong stance, right? The analysis of this strain is moving very quickly.. that Science paper is from three days ago, likely before the comic was published. Request help in non jerky way to express this (if at all) in the explanation. Poisedleft (talk) 08:42, 10 January 2021 (UTC)

"The graphic drawn in black depicts exponential growth in number of deaths — though it is not clear (without proper units or values on either axis) if this is a cumulative count of deaths or the rate of deaths per day." For exponential growth both cumulative counts and deaths per day grow exponentially (d/dx {exp(x)} = exp(x)) The explanation does not quite reflect this, it reads as "either/or" rather than "both". 19:49, 11 January 2021 (UTC)

I gave it a tweak. (It already suffered from multiple authors, one more can't hurt, unless someone wants to do a complete rewrite just in time for it getting a Next link... ;) ) 23:45, 11 January 2021 (UTC)

Is the 3-step Alt Text a reference to something? I can understand that the "Hang out" at the end refers to being able to socialize in the same way that we did in the Pre-Pandemic Times, but the punchy formatting suggests to me that it's a spoof of something else, in the vein of "Step One, [random thing]; Step Two, ?????; Step Three, Profit!" 19:57, 11 January 2021 (UTC)MeZimm