‘COVID Speak’ – How Covid-19 has influenced the way we speak

A Thinkpiece: By Winston Sutherland – 09 May, 2020

Where did these words and phrases come from? Does someone sit in a room and make them up Justin Case they are ever needed? Just in case a pandemic or some other unexpected event comes along? There are numerous cases that I can cite, but the following two words and two phrases, will suffice as examples:

  • Exponential – word
  • Herd immunity – phrase
  • Epidemiologist – word
  • Flatten the curve – phrase

These words and phrases have come into every-day use and they roll off the tongue effortlessly. What has become of words and phrases like ‘The environment’, global warming, terrorism, daily commute etc.? ☺.

So what do these words and phrases mean?

Word number 1 – EXPONENTIAL in this context refers to the rapid rate at which the Covid virus can multiply in the community if we do not implement strategies that slow down the rate of increase in infection from person to person. The only way to defeat the spread is to achieve an infection rate of 1×1 or lower. We know that 1×1 = 1. So, if you get a spread of 1 person infecting 2 or 3 other per persons then the curve rises. So, for example, 1 person infects 3 others. Each of those persons infects three other persons which gives us 1x3x3x3 =27. Just like that! Now, if that continues then we can see the exponential growth. Try this on your own1x3x3x3x3X3x3. I know my math is rubbish but the number I got was not 1 so I get it. And that is why exponential matters and that is why we need to stay do ‘social distancing’. Another new phrase but I don’t have space to write about it.

One last point on ‘EXPONENTIAL’. If we had ‘herd immunity’ exponential would not be significant but we don’t. Which takes us to phrase number 1. ‘Herd Immunity ‘.

Phrase number 1 – Herd Immunity. (also called herd effect, community immunity, population immunity, or social immunity)

We have herd immunity against a number of illnesses. Measles, mumps, small pox etc. How did we get it? We were vaccinated when we were young. That is why we do not have annual epidemics of small pox and measles and mumps. We have outbreaks but these outbreaks are quickly brought under control. Most of those affected by these outbreaks, to the best of my knowledge, were not vaccinated, but some were.

Word number 2- Epidemiologist. I have always known that word and I figured it had something to do with epidemics and that was that. I didn’t need to know anymore, or so I thought. Well it turns out I really did not realize that these are some of the most important peeple in our communities. They are disease detectives. They investigate each outbreak of a disease, identify people who are at risk, determine how to control or stop the spread or prevent it from happening again and when they are not doing that they use what they learn during the investigation and make recommendations to prevent a future occurrence.

Phrase number 2- Flatten the curve. (not ‘flatten the CURB like I heard someone say) I first came across the concept of a curve in my first year economics class at university and I recall wondering if I was the only one who could only see a straight line. Then in first year university math we were always talking about the ‘area under the curve’ and now, all these years later along come this process of flattening the curve. The value of understanding this is not so much in being able to see the actual curve from the numerous daily data points but more in understanding the implications of a flattened curve. Flattening the curve does not mean that we have defeated the virus. It’s not time to celebrate. Flattening the curve is a public health tool for managing the virus so that the health system is not overwhelmed as we saw in Italy and in New York. Flattening the curve means fewer admissions and fewer deaths on a daily basis, but it means this is likely to continue for a longer period of time.

In a sentence, ‘Epidemiologists think that in order to prevent an exponential rise in new infections we need to acquire herd immunity and flatten the curb’ hmmm!!
Did you spot the three deliberate spelling mistakes and one oxymoron in the article? No?

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