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Measuring success: what metrics are used in the fight to flatten the coronavirus curve?


For several months, health officials around the world have been touting various tools for combatting the novel coronavirus.

As cases continue to rise in Canada, the term “flattening the curve” has been advertised as a way for individuals to limit transmission to prevent the health care system from becoming overwhelmed.

Social distancing, self-isolation and travel restrictions are lauded as crucial components of reducing and preventing further spread of COVID-19, but what key metrics can be measured in the fight to flatten Canada’s curve?

Alon Vaisman, an infectious diseases physician at Toronto General Hospital, said the main variables public health officials will be looking for are the number of new cases, deaths, recoveries and how these numbers are changing from day-to-day.

One of the main ways to measure that, he said, is by looking at the number of cases that have doubled each day.

“If you’re seeing a doubling of the curve of increasing cases, that could be indicative of an outbreak that’s very hard to control or even lost control,” he said.

He noted that these numbers, however effective, are “not set in stone, though.” The doubling rate has to be calculated against the incubation period of the disease.

The novel coronavirus has an incubation of up to 14 days, which means the government wouldn’t see the full effects of any of their interventions, like social distancing for example, until two weeks later.

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Health Canada was unable to respond to requests for comment in time for publication.

Through measuring the rate of cases, infection control epidemiologist Colin Furness said the government can make decisions on how to best flatten the curve.

“The steeper the curve, the more cases we’re getting in … the more scared we should be,” he said. “The more horizontal, the flatter the shape of the curve, the better.”


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