A 7-Point COVID-19 Behavior Change Primer

MIT IDE
MIT IDE
Mar 19, 2020 · 4 min read

By Sinan Aral

As the incoming director of a large research center (the MIT IDE), the general chair of a large international conference (@IC2S2), an educator, scientist, father and citizen, I, like everyone have been reading and thinking about COVID-19. The following is a post of the most important articles/concepts I have read that are informing how I change my own personal behavior. I hope it’s helpful to others.

First, over 28M people have read this article by @tomaspueyo, but it’s really the best compilation on the epidemiology of COVID-19, its spread, who it affects & how interventions will affect it. It’s the starting place for understanding the pandemic:

Second, it’s important to understand the resilience of this virus, how long it stays on different surfaces & what that means for our behavior. This article in the Washington Post is a great starting point for understanding these dimensions.The article references this Lancet publication, so here is the primary source: https://www.thelancet.com/action/showPdf?pii=S0140-6736%2820%2930566-3

Third, the best dashboard I’ve seen visualizing real time information about the spread of COVID-19 is maintained by The Center for Systems Science and Engineering (CSSE) at Johns Hopkins University and can be found here:

Fourth, social distancing. It is clear from all the evidence that reducing physical contact with others is *essential* to reducing the impact of this pandemic, whether we are healthy or not. The spread of a pandemic can be disrupted by immediate social distancing. This example of what happened in Philadelphia and St Louis during the 1918 Flu pandemic tells the story of what just a few weeks can do in the adoption of social distancing:

Also see https://www.washingtonpost.com/health/2020/03/10/social-distancing-coronavirus/

Fifth, what does social distancing mean? While we should be conservative, it’s hard to imagine staying home for six months. This article in the Atlantic provides a range of expert opinions on what social distancing is appropriate (though I even think some of the advice is already outdated).

Sixth, looking to Italy is a vision ten days into the future for the U.S. and other countries… In Italy, it’s illegal to be in the streets. Spain is also now on lockdown. The mentality in the US is not yet up to speed, but in ten days it will be… In the U.S., OPEDs like this one are still trying to convince people to stop going to bars and to brunch. In 10 days, this will look very very different here.

Seventh, I don’t love this term “social distancing.” The second wave impact of this pandemic is going to be the mental health effects of an extended lack of social contact. Think physical distancing, not social distancing as noted in this article.

Social distancing is going to have tremendous negative mental health effects, so finding creative ways to stay connected, online and by voice and video conferencing is essential…In thinking about how to deliver @IC2S2 virtually, we’re exploring options for virtual connection which will become necessary in the weeks and months ahead. I will try to say more about this in the future.

I’ll be adding to this thread with additional information that may be useful… For example, this coming Tuesday at 11:30am Eastern experts @JHUSystems will hold a live webcast with updates on the COVID-19 pandemic here.

My friend and colleague Alex Vespignani is working overtime to model the pandemic spread using network methods that model human interaction networks. You can read about it here.

You can read his paper on the effect of travel restrictions on the spread of COVID-19 in @ScienceMagazine here.

Stay strong & stay connected! And, keep communicating! The online world will be an important respite for our solidarity and our mental resilience.

— Sinan Aral

Originally published March 15 at https://www.linkedin.com.

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The IDE explores how people and businesses work, interact, and prosper in an era of profound digital transformation. We are leading the discussion on the digital economy.