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Facts Not Fear | Why closing schools, avoiding events, and suspending NCAA tournament to stop coronavirus is a good thing

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has the potential to be far worse than H1N1. That's why officials are taking steps now to prevent it.

LOUISVILLE, Ky. — Festivals, concerts and other major events have either shutdown or postponed. This includes college basketball conference tournaments around the nation and the NCAA March Madness tournament.

Here in Louisville, the annual St. Patrick's Day parade was canceled and some upcoming Kentucky Derby events have been postponed until April 5. School districts (K-12) and colleges across the state have closed and some have moved classes to online. 

RELATED: LIST | Kentucky schools that have canceled due to COVID-19

RELATED: Kentucky Derby Festival events through April 5 postponed, Triple Crown races canceled

We should expect the cancellations and school closings to continue. 

Why this is considered a good thing: Believe it or not, experts say these events are not being canceled or postponed out of fear. It's a weapon to use against the coronavirus.

Far from being a cause for alarm, all of the closures and cancellations indicate that officials around the country are following evidence-driven methods of stopping a viral outbreak.

On social media, medical experts are spreading the idea using the hashtag #FlattenTheCurve. The curve they're talking about is the number of coronavirus infections over time.

The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic has the potential to be far worse than H1N1. That's why officials are taking steps now to prevent it.  

RELATED: NCAA cancels March Madness, Frozen Four, other championships    The large purple area (on graph below) shows how a pandemic like the COVID-19 coronavirus might spread without intervention. It starts with a small number of cases, but quickly snowballs into a huge number that can overwhelm a country’s healthcare system, before finally tapering off. It’s similar to how the seasonal flu propagates in the U.S. In fact, here’s this year’s flu season (data again from the CDC), for comparison:

Credit: Centers for Disease Control
Source: Adapted from: CDC. Interim pre-pandemic planning guidance: community strategy for pandemic influenza mitigation in the United States—early, targeted, layered use of nonpharmaceutical interventions. Atlanta, GA: US Department of Health and Human Services, CDC; 2007.

The graph below shows two curves: one with no social distancing measures being taken, and another much flatter graph that shows the number of infections with the cancellation of events and people keeping their distance from each other. 

Credit: 12 News

That means avoiding large events with a lot of people, but also expanding your personal space and staying six feet or more away from other people. Six feet, Foote said, because that's about how far a sneeze travels. 

Epidemiologists say keeping the curve down is critical to making sure as many people as possible survive.

Facts Not Fear | WHAS11 Coronavirus Coverage 

COVID-19 compared to other infectious diseases

The CDC estimates the novel strain of H1N1 that caused the 2009 pandemic resulted in roughly 61 million cases and as many as 12,500 deaths in the United States. The 2009 strain of H1N1 was able to reach pandemic levels while being more or less equally as infectious as the seasonal flu.

RELATED: VERIFY: What does it mean for a disease to be a pandemic?

By comparison, COVID-19 has a basic reproduction number (also called an R0) – the number epidemiologists use to describe how easily a disease transfers from person to person – anywhere from 2-3x higher than the seasonal flu, and could have a mortality rate as much as 10x higher, according to congressional testimony from Dr. Anthony Fauci, the head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health.

Credit: Jordan Fischer
COVID-19 has so far presented as more infectious than MERs and ebola, and with a higher mortality rate than the seasonal flu.

All of that is why health officials are taking the COVID-19 pandemic so seriously. Without taking efforts to flatten the curve, a coronavirus pandemic on the scale of H1N1 – or even just at seasonal flu numbers in the U.S. – would be devastating. 

As of the latest CDC weekly flu report, an estimated 34 million Americans had contracted the seasonal flu this year. Those 34 million cases have resulted in 20,000 deaths. At the current estimates of its mortality rate – about 1%, according to Dr. Fauci’s testimony to Congress – 34 million cases of COVID-19 could cause as many as 3.4 million deaths.

Credit: Centers for Disease Control
COVID-19 cases in the United States by date of illness onset, January 12 - March 11 (via the Centers for Disease Control)

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