Flattening the Curve

Posted: Thursday, March 19, 2020 3:43 pm

Growing up in Brownsville was a gift. Looking back at my childhood, I know that I was loved and nurtured by my parents. Likewise, I was encouraged and supported by neighbors, teachers and the community. That is our way of life in the valley. A way of life that I cherish. We know one another. We watch out for one another. We embrace one another. It is because of that way of life that I know we will get through the current pandemic together.

As mayor, I’m often asked why we are taking certain public health measures, particularly some of the measures associated with social distancing. I don’t think anyone has done a great job of explaining “the why” to seemingly healthy individuals. And it is hard to explain to an excited third grader why they will not see their friends at school, why adults should distance themselves at restaurants, or why the elderly should self-isolate in their homes.

The answer is actually pretty simple. Unless you are elderly or have a chronic health condition, chances are your symptoms may feel like a cold or the flu. But your elderly grandfather, your co-worker undergoing chemotherapy, or your friend with asthma could get very sick or die from the virus.

What government is trying to do to protect our most vulnerable loved ones is something scientists who study the spread of diseases call “flattening the curve.” That means governments are trying to slow down the rate at which the virus spreads (the curve) so that the peak of the infection (the height of the curve) doesn’t overwhelm the healthcare system.

We are flattening the curve through non-medical interventions like social distancing, which includes measures such as school closures, limiting the number of individuals allowed into a restaurant or social gathering, and encouraging at-risk populations to self-isolate from family and friends.

Scientists and government officials worry that if a large number of people get sick all at once, meaning a very high peak curve, our hospitals will be overwhelmed by individuals needing intensive care, ventilators and other services. That would not only threaten people who need help battling the virus, it would threaten people who are experiencing other healthcare emergencies such as heart attacks, the flu, or injuries from a bad car wreck.

As we see schools close, grocery stores limit hours, and governments mandate social distancing, we are all going to experience anxiety. I urge all of us to remember that Brownsville is a tough and resilient community. Our greatest asset is our people. After all, we live yearly with the anxiety of hurricane season, knowing that we’ll get through whatever is thrown at us together.

Flattening the curve is our new social responsibility; our new social embrace. And, while I personally worry about my family in Brownsville and my sister in Austin, I know that by keeping my distance, I’m showing them the hardest kind of a love. A love without an embrace. I’ll temporarily sacrifice that embrace that is so much part of my soul and my culture, knowing that a kiss awaits me on the other side of “the curve.”