United Church of Christ – Wider Church Ministries
Humanitarian Development Team
Coronavirus (COVID-19) Daily Briefing
Barbara T. Baylor, MPH – Temporary Health Liaison
On May 22 a shocking new report by researchers from Imperial College of London estimated that 24 U. S. states have an uncontrolled COVID-19 spread, right as the country begins to reopen. And there is still no coronavirus vaccine or treatment.
The researchers caution that without changes in behavior along with increased testing and contact tracing to limit transmission, new infections of COVID-19 are likely to persist – and even more than double over the next two months.
Bottom line: Even if your state reopens, continue to practice social distancing, wash your hands regularly for 20 seconds at a time and wear a face mask!
I was saddened when I saw pictures and videos of crowds of people over the Memorial Day weekend at beaches, parks and other events – many without masks and/or failing to keep their distance even as officials highlight the continued importance of both in order to prevent another surge of infections. Many are ignoring infection prevention as U. S. cases grow to almost 2 million and the death toll approaches 100,000.
Have Americans so quickly forgotten about the dangers of coronavirus? Why were so many people “willing to take the risk” over the holiday?
We have seen endless hours of footage from CDC, WHO, university health researchers, public health experts and notable scientists informing us of the dangers of COVID-19 and what we can do to mitigate its effects. Yet, too many are now turning a blind eye and refusing to participate in positive health behaviors designed to keep all Americans healthy.
Montgomery Alabama Mayor Steven Reed shared with CNN that “what we’re seeing is kind of a split community where you have people who believe this is over and have decided they’re going to get back to their normal way of life and they’re willing to take the risk, but what they’re not considering is the risk they’re posing to others when they do not see some of the symptoms in themselves.”
Reed’s statement acknowledges a distinguishing factor of COVID-19, asymptomatic and presymptomatic spread – which means people who don’t (yet) know they are sick spread the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention now estimate that more than one-third or 35% of people infected with COVID-19 could be asymptomatic.
His statement reminds me of a widely recognized framework of health behavior in public health called the Health Belief Model, introduced years ago by psychologists working in the U. S. Public Health Service (Hochbaum, Rosenstock, Leventhal, and Kegeles).
The model is used to study people’s behavioral responses to health-related conditions and to explain the reluctance of people participating in programs to prevent disease. It assumes that people fear diseases, and that health actions are motivated in relation to the degree of fear or perceived threat.
Key are people’s perceptions about susceptibility (getting the disease or condition), severity (seriousness of the disease or condition), benefits (potential positive aspects of a health action) and barriers (potential negative aspects of a health action), along with cues (factors) that trigger action.
Early in the COVID-19 pandemic, most people believed that they were susceptible to getting the disease, that COVID-19 was indeed serious and that the health practices of social distancing and sheltering in place were indeed beneficial. It was only recently that things began to change.
Many no longer believe they are susceptible, or that the disease is that serious enough to warrant the practice of wearing masks and social distancing. It seems that these preventative actions are now seen as a threat to our civil liberties and a sign of oppressive government rule rather than the humanitarian outward showing of love and kindness for one another. Some believe it’s okay to bargain with our health and our fellow Americans’ health. These beneficial health practices have now been politicized to a point that we are waging war with our neighbor instead of practicing grace, empathy and understanding.
On Sunday, Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus task force coordinator, reminded us that “wearing a face mask is critical to reducing the spread of Coronavirus, especially since many carriers don’t even know they’re contagious. There is clear scientific evidence now, by all the droplet experiments that happened and that others have done, to show that a mask does prevent droplets from reaching others.”
Dr. Birx offers a message to those who say they have a right not to wear a mask in public. “Out of respect for each other, as Americans that care for each other, we need to be wearing masks in public when we cannot social distance.”
Governor Doug Burgum, North Dakota, echoed Dr. Birx, urging his constituents not to follow other states in creating a divide – whether ideological or political – around mask versus no mask.
“If someone is wearing a mask, he says, “they’re not doing it to represent what political party they’re in or what candidates they support. They might be doing it because they’ve got a 5-year-old child who’s been going through cancer treatments. They might have vulnerable adults in their life, who currently have COVID-19 and they’re fighting.”
Or, I’m adding, they might be sick themselves and do not want to spread germs or, unwittingly, COVID-19.
“So, let’s not allow ourselves to get fatigued doing good. At the right time we will harvest a good crop if we don’t give up or quit. Right now, therefore, every time we get the chance, let us work for the benefit of all, starting with the people closest to us in the community of faith.” – (Galatians 6 :9-10 The Message (MSG))
Photo courtesy Debbie Chegwidden