SOUTH COAST — As people stay home to help slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, many might be wondering when life will return to normal and what “normal” will look like.
“Pandemics cause changes in society in many ways,” said Daniel Brouse, professor of biology at Southwestern Oregon Community College. “One change is the realization that work and family values need to be adjusted. These are moments in time where we pause collectively and just that itself can cause change.”
But the biggest change that will come as a result: education.
Brouse pointed to the pandemics throughout history as proof. Of course, as a teacher of biology, he spoke mostly on the ingredients needed to create a pandemic and how those ingredients changed over time as a result.
During the Spanish Flu of 1918 and 1919, this was the era where scientists knew of “a new thing called ‘germ theory’ and that disease was not spread through the bad vapors of the air.” Though scientists knew this, he said the general public didn’t fully understand it.
“Sometimes it takes a long time for society as a whole to take on new ideas,” he said. “Some argue that the people in a society don’t, but that the new generation picks up the new ideas.”
During the bubonic plague, Brouse pointed to the ingredients there as being a lack of bathing and a lack of rodent control. Healers also believed the bacterial disease was spread through the air and wore the infamous bird masks now widely associated with pandemics. Those beaks were filled with gauze and herbs as a way to filter out the “diseased” air.
Now roughly 100 years since the Spanish Flu, Brouse explained how today's society is facing the novel coronavirus pandemic with widespread knowledge of germ theory and a basic understanding of biology and hygiene.
“This is the first time where most of the population understands these things,” he said. “Society changed after pandemics and we’ve come a long way since each of those outbreaks.”
When asked what ingredients were needed to cause the current pandemic of COVID-19, Brouse said number one is to have an infectious agent that is “sneakily and rapidy spread.”
“It is also called ‘novel’ for a reason,” he said. “No one has experienced this before, so people are susceptible.”
Though the coronavirus has been known for a while, COVID-19 is a different strand. It is closely related to SARS.
“The thing that makes (COVID-19) more diabolical compared to SARS is that SARS was harder on each individual, so there was a higher mortality rate,” Brouse explained. “That high mortality rate stopped SARS from being a pandemic … It’s the infections that hide out in people who don’t know what’s going on that share it. That’s when it blows up and impacts part of the population that is most susceptible. It is the people who don’t know they have it that pass it on.”
As a result of this pandemic, Brouse theorized resulting changes as more support for people who need to stay home when they are sick.
“There is an expectation of a work ethic of showing up to class in order to be successful in life, but if we need to prevent a pandemic from exploding by letting sick people work from home, we need to support them,” he said. “As a society, we will need to think through this, but I don’t know what the new normal will be or what conclusions will come.”
As for how long this pandemic may last, Brouse isn’t sure. But when he looked back at previous pandemics seen around the world, he pointed to the bubonic plague and the current flu season as indicators.
“(The bubonic plague) came back every 20 to 30 years for a couple hundred years,” he said. “On the other hand, we don’t think too much of the cold and flu season usually unless there’s something particularly bad. We accept that as part of life … Until people become largely immune to this, it will be with us for a while. This is in the population now. We could be seeing the growth of a new endemic infection … Maybe we see a pandemic when a certain strain becomes common in the population.”
Though these are just theories for now, he emphasized that staying home is the best way to “flatten the curve” by slowing down how many people get sick at one time and don’t overwhelm health facilities.
“The problem is (COVID-19) is so sneaky,” he said. “The main way to protect people who are susceptible is making sure they have resources and to prevent the disease from progressing rapidly through the population.”