The unexpected health benefits emerging from the COVID-19 pandemic
Nineteen month since the outbreak of COVID-19 (but who is counting), so much of public life has turned upside down — dramatically transforming how we share spaces together. However, the pandemic has also been a revelatory experience when it comes to health awareness. More than anything else in recent memory, the virus outbreak highlighted the importance of public health practices. This has led to many positive trends in improving public hygiene. With this in mind, we explore the unexpected health benefits that have emerged from the pandemic and the important lessons we should take forward as a community.
More Hand Washing
Regular hand washing is so crucial to overall public health. Getting people to comply with this habit, however, has proven persistently challenging. Yet during the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic, several reports showed a significant increase in hand washing. For example, a report from The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found more people were remembering to wash their hands in June 2020, compared to October 2019. They were 2.3 times more likely to wash their hands after coughing or sneezing. And they were 2 times more likely to wash hands before eating at a restaurant.
During a public health emergency like the COVID-19 pandemic, managing environmental exposure is especially important. As a result, general public education about effective cleaning techniques grew significantly. Following CDC recommendations, the use of disinfectants by businesses increased, particularly the targeting of high-touch and high-traffic areas. Disinfection technology like electrostatic sprayers also became more available.
In addition, both workers and customers are paying more attention to how businesses approach their cleaning practices. One survey showed 58% of employees expect higher hygiene standards at their workplaces, with more frequent cleaning and disinfection. Another recent survey also shows consumers are more likely to engage with businesses that demonstrably focus on preserving a hygienic environment.
Deflated Flu Season
Last year, following the COVID-19 pandemic, health experts were braced for the flu season, dreading the consequences of two outbreaks occurring in tandem. However, the exact opposite happened. The CDC reported 1,316 positive flu cases logged in its surveillance network between September 2020 and January 2021. This marks a nearly 100% drop from the same period the previous year, when the CDC recorded nearly 130,000 cases. The CDC also found dramatically fewer cases in other respiratory diseases.
It turns out the same preventative measures used against COVID-19 was super effective against the seasonal flu. These same practices would be invaluable in preventing flu outbreaks in the future. In addition to encouraging habits like regular hand washing and surface disinfection, workplaces could also overhaul how they treat the flu and other respiratory illnesses in the office. Instead of forcing people to come to work sick, systems are now in place to allow employees to work remotely. For those who are asymptomatic but still infectious, new practices like wearing masks and keeping social distance are invaluable prevention tools.
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