Story by Alyssa Williams
March 13, 2020 is a date branded in the minds of many Rutherford County citizens. Exactly 3 years ago, Murfreesboro City, Rutherford County and many other Tennessee schools closed ahead of their regularly scheduled spring breaks, marking the beginning of quarantine for the COVID-19 pandemic.
The pandemic changed daily life U.S. in a variety of ways. Above all, the coronavirus affected how we view public and personal health.
The Morning Consult recently updated its Views on the Pandemic tracker on March 8, 2023. The tracker “examine[s] how the public feels about COVID-19’s continuing impacts on health, politics and the economy by examining attitudes toward vaccines, political and institutional handling of the coronavirus, economic impacts of the pandemic.”
According to the tracker titled “Share of U.S. adults who are ‘very’ concerned about coronavirus outbreak, by generation,” less than 30 percent of all generations are still very concerned about the virus. For most, it’s not heavy on the mind as society returns to a new normal.
However, changes in how people handle health in both their public and personal lives are evident throughout society.
Dr. Katie Foss is a professor of Media Studies in the School of Journalism and Strategic Media at MTSU who teaches television studies, health communication and several other courses. In September 2020, she published her book “Constructing the Outbreak: Epidemics in Media and Collective Memory,” ironically just after the outset of the pandemic. In her book, she analyzed both epidemics and pandemics within the U.S. and how the government, media coverage, and citizens handled them.
“In general, most people took health for granted, especially in the United States,” Foss said, referring to times before the pandemic. “There has always been this assumption that you push yourself through an illness, or you work through an illness. You show up for work or return to work or school as quickly as possible. We really downplayed sickness.”
Throughout the pandemic, though, there was a surge in awareness of personal health. If someone was exposed to COVID-19, they would be sent home from work or school regardless of whether they had symptoms or not. Public officials enforced preventative measures such as wearing masks or getting a vaccine if you worked in certain positions.
Pre-pandemic, mild symptoms often associated with COVID-19 would hardly warrant a second thought. Now, post-pandemic, it has become normal to take off work and prioritize health, not only for the good of oneself but for the good of the whole.
Current culture surrounding illness has been permanently altered, at least for the foreseeable future. Exposure to any sort of sickness justifies the use of a mask in public spaces. Awareness for the immunocompromised and chronically ill has increased.
Despite this culture change, many still downplay sickness and specifically the pandemic. Some still claim that it didn’t exist at all, and there is continued debate over masking that lingers from the height of the pandemic.
“I do think that there has been what’s been called ‘pandemic performance’ that happened for a while, especially if you see people wearing masks inconsistently,” Foss said. You know, you put it on when you think people are looking and take it off when they’re not looking.”
The attitude that American citizens carried about the pandemic contrasts with previous pandemics and epidemics. In the past, people did anything they could to avoid getting sick, not only with widespread illnesses but small illnesses that many do not bat an eye at anymore, such as a small flu or cold.
“If we look at past epidemics and past pandemics, they didn’t have the arrogance about disease that we have now and especially during 2019,” Foss said. “Back then, even if there wasn’t an epidemic or pandemic, the threat of contagious illness was constantly a part of society. They were dealing with all of these different diseases that we assume are not going to be a problem because they’re vaccine preventable.”
One thing this pandemic has in common with ones before is how people have moved on from it. Some people feel that continuing to talk about the coronavirus is continuing to beat a dead horse. Many people are beginning to view COVID-19 as they view the flu or the common cold.
“I have concern that, like many epidemics and pandemics of the past, that we are going to quickly move on from this moment,” Foss said. “Our experiences, stories, and grief absolutely need to be cemented in collective memory.”
Alyssa Williams is the Assistant News Editor for MTSU Sidelines.
To contact News Editor Kailee Shores and Assistant News Editor Alyssa Williams, email email@example.com.
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