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Is Florida flattening the curve? Here's how to read the charts

Flattening the curve means reducing the number of new coronavirus cases each day to prevent overwhelming the health care system.

Flattening the curve -- it's a phrase the world has been hearing for months during the COVID-19 pandemic.

And, as countries begin to reopen —  or at least make plans to —  people are hearing leaders explain if and how their respective country or state has flattened that curve.

What does that all mean? Using information and data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Johns Hopkins University and the Florida Department of Health, 10News breaks it down:

What is flattening the curve?

Flattening the curve is reducing the number of new coronavirus cases from one day to the next to prevent health care systems from becoming overwhelmed. When a country or state sees fewer coronavirus cases today than it did yesterday —  and continues that trend —  that's a sign it's is flattening the curve.

Flattening the curve also has to do with avoiding big spikes in coronavirus cases within a short period of time, according to Dr. Howard Markel, an expert in the history of medicine who has studied similar epidemics in the past.

Markel, who teaches at the University of Michigan, contributed his expertise to the university's flattening the curve explainer. He and his colleagues say slowing and reducing the virus' spread also means the number of coronavirus cases will continue across a longer period of time.

How do we flatten the curve? Experts say the more people are consistent in these steps, the easier it will be to flatten the curve: 

  • Social distancing
  • Canceling large events that draw crowds
  • Closing schools, colleges and universities and moving classes online
  • Closing or adjusting indoor public spaces like restaurants, movie theaters, etc.
  • If you're sick, stay home and avoid others as much as possible
  • Maintaining good basic hygiene like frequently washing hands for 20 seconds and avoiding touching your face

Is Florida flattening the curve?

The state reported its first COVID-19 cases on March 1, phase one of reopening began on May 4, and state leaders have been saying Florida has flattened the curve since last month. 

"We have flattened the curve," Gov. Ron DeSantis said during a news conference April 21. "Our work is succeeding. We have flattened the curve. Available hospital beds have increased since the pandemic started."

Data from the University of Washington showed a peak on April 21 for the number of deaths from coronavirus in Florida.

After DeSantis' news conference, 10News spoke to epidemiologist Dr. Janice Zgibor with the University of South Florida about her thoughts on flattening the curve.

Experts have said not so fast, saying the data shows it's still too soon to know if Florida has reached the next critical phase of recovery. And, Zgibor and other medical experts say increased testing needs to continue.

"We need to see the downslope of the curve for a couple of weeks," she said. "That was in the president's recommendations."

The same day DeSantis said the state flattened the curve, Florida reported 866 new cases, up from 753 the day before.

RELATED: 'Not so fast': Epidemiologists hesitant to say Florida has flattened the curve

The number of new cases each day has been trending downward in Florida for the last couple of weeks, but some days saw spikes in new cases. 

According to data from the Department of Health, the state's reopening day saw 582 new cases, May 5 had 599 and May 6 reported just 30 new cases statewide. 

Dr. Jay Wolfson, a USF Distinguished Service Professor of Public Health who specializes in health law and policy, said we should be looking at the plateau.

"There's a difference between a peak and a plateau," he said. "In the rate of increase of reported events, that really defines what peaking and plateau mean — when you get to a certain point that begins to mitigate and flatten out."

Wolfson said the state has been successful in mitigating the rate of increase.

"So that's about right over the past couple of weeks," he said. "The rate of increase has slowed and flattened out."

The bar chart below shows the number of new coronavirus cases per day in Florida since the beginning of March. The chart will updated every day.

The dashboard below frequently updates with the most current numbers for COVID-19 in Florida using data from the Department of Health.

The Department of Health also launched a new free app to help better track coronavirus cases and input from the public. The StrongerThanC19 app, which complements the website that launched April 3, allows users to anonymously answer questions about age, residency, recent travel and potential contact with someone infected with COVID-19.

RELATED: Florida Department of Health launches app to survey people about coronavirus exposure

Both the online and app surveys are similar to a method of combating the virus spread called contact tracing. Contact tracing involves tracing and monitoring people who have come into contact with infected people and notifying them of their exposure.

RELATED: What is contact tracing? How can it help fight the spread of coronavirus?

How do I read all these charts?

It's easy to get overwhelmed with the number of different charts popping up in the last several months. Some show new cases by day, some show the total number of cases by day and some chart deaths by state, county or country. And so many others use the incoming coronavirus data to compare pandemic responses among different states and countries. 

There are two types of charts being used to display coronavirus cases and deaths: Linear and logarithmic. Sometimes, even though the actual numbers are correct, how they are displayed in a chart can be confusing or misleading.

Linear charts divide up space on the Y-axis by adding the same value over and over until you get the highest number you want at the top. For example, increasing by 5,000 each time, like the chart below.

This linear chart shows the number of coronavirus cases in Florida as of April 19.

The chart below shows the same data as the one above, but with a logarithmic scale instead of a linear scale. Changing the scale of the Y-axis produces a dramatically different chart.

A logarithmic chart, or log scale, divides up space on the Y-axis by multiplying a value (usually by 10) to show exponential growth.

This chart's Y-axis goes up by multiples of 10 all the way up to 10,000. Many charts showing coronavirus cases around the country and around the world use a logarithmic look to better show growth in large numbers.

RELATED: Two months tracking COVID-19 in Tampa Bay: Here’s what we know

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RELATED: VERIFY: CDC did not lower or revise the COVID-19 death count by 30,000 cases

RELATED: VERIFY: Antibody tests versus COVID-19 tests. The pros and cons of both.

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