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Why Our Behavior Matters so Much in the Pandemic?

By: Rupa Umamaheswaran



We are heading towards mid-August, and COVID-19 has not decreased its impact. The pandemic has been affecting businesses, schools, and all other facets of life differently across the nation. As stay at home orders have been lifted a while ago and reopening has become the new casual, areas of the United States have been experiencing new surges in COVID-19 cases. While it may seem like the situation is out of hand at this point, we’re never too late to act and change the pandemic outcomes. We can still be protective of our families and loved ones if we continue to practice preventative measures. As we look towards solutions to control the concurrent pandemic from affecting our local communities, the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic teaches us how US cities battling the H1N1 virus then lowered its disease transmission rates through implementing preventative interventions.



COVID-19 Surges


While policy changes don't instill its effects on disease transmission right away, the surges we see are a reflection of people’s behavior in the past few months. For instance, the article First and Second waves of Coronavirus published by Johns Hopkins Medicine, explains that for individuals who get in contact with coronavirus, it may be about one to two weeks for them to get sick, acknowledge their symptoms before they get tested. It takes additional time for their cases to be accounted into the population data, and this process repeats for people they have been in contact with and got exposed to the virus. In fact, this article states that as per medical experts, it may take up to eight weeks to see the concurrent effects of disease transmission manifest into the statistical data.


Strochlic, N., & Champine, R. (2020, March 27). How some cities ‘flattened the curve’ during the 1918 flu pandemic. National Geographic. https://www.nationalgeographic.com/history/2020/03/how-cities-flattened-curve-1918-spanish-flu-pandemic-coronavirus/#close




Challenges in Controlling The Pandemic

With COVID-19 on the rise, the upcoming opening of schools and more businesses may strain the concurrent health status. Seasonal flu outbreaks that we encounter during fall, may have an impact on the disease transmission as well. The same article cautions that patients and hospitals would be at risk if both the seasonal flu and COVID-19 rates spike during the fall. As per a Healthline article about COVID-19’s airborne transmission, recent evidence suggests that COVID-19 transmission routes can possibly be airborne indoors. Some studies report that in crowded and poor ventilation areas, the virus has the ability to sustain in air and cause infection. In fact, the article notes that in closed areas like bars and restaurants, where there is less space for air to get exchanged, the virus can sustain longer. While the airborne transmission route needs more solidified evidence from studies, it certainly “cannot be ruled out” as a transmission route as per the World Health Organization (WHO).


Aizenman, N. (2020, June 12). Coronavirus 2nd Wave? Nope, The U.S. Is Still Stuck In The 1st One. Npr. https://www.npr.org/sections/health-shots/2020/06/12/876224115/coronavirus-second-wave-nope-were-still-stuck-in-the-first-one

Importance of Human Behavior in Reducing Disease Transmission


Although alarming, we can respond and be protective of the situation for ourselves and the ones we love. We can continue to acknowledge and exercise our responsibilities in our own communities, by keeping safe and following CDC guidelines. Medical experts say that actively embracing protective measures can have a significant impact on disease transmission. The WHO outbreak communications planning guide also emphasizes that “people’s behavior can reduce the disease spread up to 80% during pandemics”! As various scientific and welfare sectors are looking into ways that could stop the current pandemic, history offers simple yet powerful solutions!



Lessons From the 1918 Spanish Flu Pandemic



According to CDC’s article on the 1918 pandemic (H1N1 virus), the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic killed more than 50 million people worldwide. As we see disparities in COVID-19 cases and deaths nationwide today, US cities then were also affected disproportionately during the Spanish flu pandemic. According to the article How some cities ‘flattened the curve’ during the 1918 pandemic published by National Geographic, US cities that imposed social distancing like preventative initiatives on a timely manner suffered about less than 50 percent of death rates than their counterparts. The article notes that such preventative efforts involved canceling formal public and social gatherings including schools and theatres. These public health measures enforced the idea of social distancing, which we all are familiar with and a practice that we must continue to embrace.



Nash, S. (2020, March 29). Why the 1918 Flu Pandemic was so huge. Urban Milwaukee. https://urbanmilwaukee.com/2020/03/29/why-the-1918-flu-pandemic-was-so-huge/



What Can We Do?


As social distancing restrictions are eased, “more people are leaving their homes more often now than in April”, according to KFF health tracking polls report. Referencing back to the 1918 flu pandemic, studies reported that US cities that eased social distancing measures way too early experienced relapse than the cities that prolonged such measures. While these kinds of measures rely on regulations enforced by the government and public health sectors, it's important to not forget the impact individual behaviors can have on limiting the spread of the disease in our communities. Practices such as social distancing have been instrumental for curbing the curve for disease transmission in US cities during the Spanish flu pandemic.

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