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Published on May 28, 2020

Flatten the Curve! How You Can Help Stop the Spread of COVID-19

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Dr. Mark Freeborn discusses how the coronavirus is spread, how will flattening the curve help, and how to flatten the curve.


Melanie Cole (Host): Welcome to Check-up Chat with Evergreen Health. I’m Melanie Cole and today we’re talking about flattening the curve. Joining me is Dr. Mark Freeborn. He is the Chief Surgeon at Evergreen Health and an Orthopedic Spine Surgeon at Evergreen Health Neuroscience and Spine Institute. Dr. Freeborn, I’m so glad to have you with us today. We’re hearing this term now, flatten the curve. What does that mean and what’s the ultimate goal in achieving it?

Mark Freeborn, MD (Guest): Hi Melanie. Thanks for having me. So, the term flattening the curve is something that wasn’t in any of our lexicon and certainly not mine prior to six to eight weeks ago but all of take that term and through the education that we received kind of apply our own definition to it. the broadest definition I can apply is we are attempting to slow the spread of the disease so that our medical capacity in other words, the doctors, the nurses, the technicians, the people within the hospitals in our communities in the United States have the capability to take care of everybody that gets sick. If the curve is too steep and people get sick too quickly, we don’t have the adequate resources, certainly not the advanced resources necessary to take care of the sickest patients.

Host: Well I think at the top of everybody’s mind is how does the Coronavirus spread and how will flattening this curve help to mitigate that spread just a bit or a lot?

Dr. Freeborn: So, as you can imagine, we’re learning a lot about this virus. It’s pesky. It seems to be highly contagious. While I am not an infectious disease specialist, I’m an orthopedic surgeon, a bone doctor, we all have a part to play here. And so, understanding the very basic way that this virus spreads through contact – human to human contact. There’s also something called a fomite where a human would touch an inanimate object like a coffee cup or a piece of food or piece of produce or something that lives kind of in and around the areas where we live and then somebody else who is not affected could touch that same object and pick up the virus that way. Finally, and perhaps the most worrisome way is people can cough or sneeze and what we say is aerosolize the virus, those viral particles are then floating in the air and someone else could walk through that plume or where the virus particles are in the air and inhale the virus particles and become infected that way. So, by staying six feet apart, by using very good hand hygiene, washing our hands, wiping down surfaces, we’re lessening the chance that we will become in contact with the virus and that flattens the curve by slowing the transmission.

Host: Well thank you for that answer. How can individuals, families and communities help to flatten the curve? What do you want people to know about staying home to stay healthy, social distancing and why it is so important whether we should be wearing masks. Give us a little rundown on how individuals, families and communities can really help to flatten the curve.

Dr. Freeborn: Sure, that’s a great question. And again, I’ll go back to me. As a medical professional, I am an orthopedic spine surgeon. There’s no role for an orthopedic spine surgery in this COVID crisis, except for there’s a very real role for me as a healthcare provider and as a citizen of the community that I live in. every single person has a role to play. And the more that we can all do our part, the quicker we will flatten this curve and the quicker we will get through this pandemic with less lives lost. So, every single person can take it upon themselves to respect the social distancing guidelines that have been put forth, that are scientifically based. Every single person can make it their goal to adhere to the strict hand hygiene guidelines that have been placed. Every single person can resist the temptation to go out and about in unnecessary ways or to interact with their friends, their family members, their loved ones until it’s safe for us to do so. Every little decision that’s made, has a significant effect on how quickly this virus spreads. Remember, back in the first days of the virus, in our community here in the Seattle area, what we know scientifically now is that the entire viral spread in the state of Washington came from one individual. So, just imagine, and I’m not saying this individual is at fault, but just imagine that one individual knew what we know now and knew to avoid human contact and knew to avoid touching things and to wear a mask, the virus would not have spread beyond that one person. Or it would have spread to much less people and the pandemic in the greater Seattle area would have been much less than it is right now.

So, trace our outbreak in the greater Seattle area back to that one person and put yourself in that person’s position. If that person knew what we know now, and acted differently, think of how many lives could have been saved or how the pandemic would look differently not only in the greater Pacific Northwest area, but potentially even across the United States.

Host: Wow, well it certainly is true and what a good point that you make. So, it’s been stated by all the health organizations that washing your hands and you mentioned it is the best way to reduce the spread of the virus. Can you tell us a little bit about why that’s true and you’re a surgeon, tell us how to properly wash our hands.

Dr. Freeborn: Well there’s lot’s of techniques that we can utilize. I can tell you my hands are dry and cracking right now because I’m someone who typically washes my hands 50 to 100 times a day and I can tell you right now, between the hand sanitizers and the washing of the hands, we’re doing it with increasing frequency. So, our hands are our greatest touch point for us to interact with our environment. Obviously, we see with our eyes, we hear with our ears, we taste with our mouth and our tongue but our hands by design are the way that we interact with our environment the most. They are highly innervated. They are sensitive. We can use them in multiple different ways. And so, for that reason, we as human beings, touch things. We then also touch ourselves. Part of our normal interactions are to use hand gestures, we touch our eyes, we touch our nose, we touch our mouth.

So, if you take into focus, that your hands are the number one way that you interact with your environment, then by definition, they’re going to be the number one area on your body that’s most likely to have come in contact with the virus. So, by washing our hands. Simple soap and water will destroy the virus. By doing that and lessening down the number of viral particles hopefully to none, but even if we take them from, I’ll make up a number 10 billion viral particles down to 1000, that’s a significant amount of viral particles that are no longer actively able to transmit. So, the simple act of washing your hands as many times as you can per day and the secondary act of minimizing the amount of things that you are touching including your own face and eyes to prevent yourself from becoming infected, those can have significant benefits.

I personally wash my hands in a very methodical way. You asked that question how do I wash my hands as a surgeon. So, we go through a very specific algorithm the first time we do surgery in a day we take a scrub brush and we start with our palms in a very general motion and then we spend a significant amount of time in the exact same way every time, with our thumb, or first finger, our long finger, our ring finger and our pinky finger. And we do that on each hand then we clean our nail cuticles on each hand. We wash the soap off and then I personally go back, and I do that all over one more time. And so that’s a very time intensive and laborious process. That’s what we do before every surgery.

I certainly don’t expect everybody to take two to five minutes to clean their hands the way that I have just described. But the common thing is to wash your hands in a methodical way singing the ABC song twice. The purpose of the ABC song is just to remind you that to adequately wash your hands, it takes a certain amount of time and we as human beings will be washing our hands for five seconds and think that we’ve done it long enough. But by singing the song in your head, you realize boy I’m only halfway through the first iteration of this, I need to keep going and that will make you by definition do a better job.

Host: What a great explanation. Doctor, thank you so much for that. What is Evergreen Health Kirkland doing to flatten the curve and ensure the safety of employees, patients, and the community? What are you doing to protect yourselves and the community?

Dr. Freeborn: Boy I really appreciate that question because as a member of this community, as a member of the medical staff of Evergreen Health, it was obviously shocking to see that our hospital was the first hospital where COVID came in the United States. And we were the first hospital to actively treat these patients. And for me to be a part of our medical staff and a part of our leadership and administration and watch my colleagues from the moment that this virus hit take extraordinary measures, the first of all appreciate the severity of this outbreak, what this meant. We didn’t drag toes. We didn’t hold back. We spun up an incident command center very quickly. Our hospital had taken extraordinary measures before this viral outbreak happened to be prepared for a viral outbreak. And so, we routinely send our administrators and leaders to the CDC for extra training. We have done drills and prepared for viral pandemics and so while we don’t know anything or didn’t know anything about COVID, back in late February, we did know base don our training, how to prepare and deal with a viral outbreak.

And so, as physicians and healthcare professionals do, we fell back on our training, fell back on our process and very quickly developed an effective treatment mechanism to protect our community and take care of our community. And for me, as a member of the medical staff, to watch my colleagues who are experts in infectious disease and nursing and intensive care, our pulmonary and critical care doctors, our hospitalists, our nurses start to finish, take care of these people in the manner that they have; it reaffirms to me that I am in the best place I possible could be as are our community members here in the Kirkland, Seattle area.

Host: Thank you so much Dr. Freeborn for everything that you are doing to keep the community safe and reassure the community as well. Wrap it up for us. Tell people what you’d like them to know about the importance of social distancing, and really flattening this curve so that everybody can feel safe once again.

Dr. Freeborn: So, I guess I would say this. We have done a phenomenal job across the Pacific Northwest in flattening the curve to date. We’ve clearly changed the trajectory of this virus and we have avoided the what I describe apocalyptic scenario that unfortunately a lot of our other communities are going through. Northern Italy, even the greater New York area. They did reach that point where the virus overwhelmed the medical system. Because of the actions of the citizens, the leaders, the government here in the Pacific Northwest, we’ve been able to avoid that scenario. We’re not through this yet. We have gotten through the first wave and the most worrisome part of the first wave, but we haven’t won the war yet. We may be got through this first battle and survived.

If we go back to normal, too quickly, we are at even greater risk of becoming overwhelmed again. So, I would implore community to stay strong, resist the temptation to prematurely go out and about and the benefit of that is going to be that we can get through this safely and we can resume a more normal life safely. I want you to know that your medical community is here. Your medical community is full of experts who have been working tirelessly to keep the greater community safe. And we will continue to do so. And so that should be very reassuring certainly the citizens in our greater area, your doctors, nurses, technicians, therapists, even the janitors and the cafeteria workers have put the community ahead of their own personal health and wellbeing and we will always do that. So, we’re going to be here no matter what happens, and we will take care of people going forward but we have a very good plan and process to make sure our community stays safe going forward

Host: Thank you so much Dr. Freeborn for coming on with us today and also for everything that you and your staff are doing to keep the Evergreen Health community safe. Thank you so much. To stay up to date on information regarding COVID-19 please visit Evergreen Health invites you and your family to do your part in spreading the message. Be safe. Stay home and help flatten the curve. Snap a selfie and post it on social media with the hashtags #Evergreen Health, #flatten the curve. #stay home. And #stay home save lives. That concludes this episode of Check-up Chat with Evergreen Health. Please remember to subscribe, rate and review this podcast and all the other Evergreen Health podcasts. Please also remember to shar this show with your friends and family on social media. Because that’s how we learn together what Evergreen Health is doing to keep the community safe. I’m Melanie Cole.

Mark Freeborn Meet the Expert

Mark Freeborn, MD

Mark Freeborn, MD is a Physician, Spine Surgeon at EvergreenHealth Spine, Back & Neck Care.

Read Dr. Mark Freeborn's full profile

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