The Story Behind ‘Flatten the Curve,’ the Defining Chart of the Coronavirus

In a time when people around the world are searching for answers, Flatten the Curve has become the defining graphic of the COVID-19 pandemic. (Where the term “flatten the curve” first came from is less clear). The idea is simple: Taking steps like washing your hands or staying home if you’re sick can slow down new cases of illness, so that the finite resources of our healthcare system can handle a more steady flow of sick patients rather than a sudden deluge.

With roots that trace as far back as a 2007 paper published by the CDC, the core scheme of Flatten the Curve is an idea that’s been repeatedly remixed by health experts to reach its final, clearest form, proposed by New Zealand epidemiologist Siouxsie Wiles and drawn by illustrator Toby Morris. It’s a cartoon gif that appears to be a silly webcomic, but instead, it toggles between two potential futures for our healthcare system.

In the first, a man dismissively says “whatever, it’s just like a cold or flu,” and above him, we see a large spike in the number of coronavirus cases, peaking well above a dotted line conveying healthcare capacity. Then it toggles to another perspective, a woman washing her hands saying, “don’t panic but be careful,” and we see the number of cases smoothed to a long, low hill that doesn’t overwhelm our hospital system… Fast Company

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