The Sociology of Pandemics

hi sociology scholars this is the sociology of pandemics I'm dr. Todd Ferguson at the University of Mary harden Baylor and Belton Texas and I'm collaborating with Josh Tom of Seattle Pacific University in Seattle Washington and we are living in such an interesting time that I thought it would be great to go over how can sociology as a field help us understand what we're living through during a pandemic I first want to give a shout out to the org theory team this is a website online org theory dotnet that is a blog about sociology and particularly Fabio Rojas who posted a blog about how can sociology help us to understand pandemics so we're using some of that to structure how we're thinking so I want to say we're citing him we're citing dr. Rojas for citing org theory we are didn't make this up on our own we're using a collaboration of other scholars so let's think about epidemics and pandemics we hear these words a lot so an epidemic this is when it is a disease spreads rapidly in a large number of people in a given population within a short period of time so it can be locally based we've like the Ebola epidemic but what we're living in is pandemic and pandemic is when an epidemic starts occurring on a scale that crosses international boundaries and so that's what we're seeing pan the root word here is all so pandemic is for everybody it's when all countries are experiencing some type of disease and that's what we're seeing with this novel coronavirus so when we look at pandemics we can look at it with through a couple lenses so first off is obviously biology you can look at the cell structure you can look at how it affects people biologically you can also look at psychology how people are experiencing personally experiencing the pandemic how do they think about it how do they react to it what are the emotions that come up how are they processing it um but what we're gonna look obviously because we're sociologists we're gonna look at how sociology can look at pandemics so the biological part the psychological part these are so important so we're not diminishing them but we're gonna focus on sociology and you can think about all three combined create this field of Epidemiology or the field of Public Health it's really when the social sciences and the Natural Sciences talk to one another and start looking at community health so the way I want to think about pandemics today is through a model of social structure we can look at it through resources what are the things and structures out in society that help people do what they need to do we can think about culture what are the rules of the game what are the norms the values what's our language we can also think about material culture and not just in material culture but the material objects that are made and then demographics how older people what's the gender ratio what's the life span what's the death rate so we're gonna think about social structure using those three nodes to help guide our conversation today so let's start with resources so resources first off we have to think about health care systems we what we've seen in this pandemic is that our health care systems are struggling with supplies getting enough personal protection equipment you might have seen on social media where people are volunteering to make Orso Hospital masks and we're also seeing that our supply chains are limited so what happens when you need a certain cotton swab to do the the kovat night team test but that cotton swab is made over in germany and it's been infected or the other country has been affected and so you can't get that cotton swab so our supply chains how do we actually get the material we need to make the items that we need to help combat this epidemic and we can also think about health care system capacity how many total beds do we have how many doctors and nurses and physicians assistants do we have do we have enough do we have enough janitors to help disinfect everything and so there is actually capacity for this you might have heard that there's not enough that there are not enough ventilators to help people breathe and so how do we ramp up production of ventilators and you might have heard the phrase flatten the curve and this is absolutely connected with the healthcare system capacity so you can think about there is the straight line this horizontal line which is the healthcare system capacity how many beds how many ventilators how many ICU doctors and nurses and if no interventions happen then a lot of people get infected all at once over a short amount of time and it overwhelms the healthcare system but if you take measures to prevent the pandemic the same number of people actually get infected but it's over a longer period of time and so the healthcare system the capacity can actually handle it so this graphic is not mine I do not take credit for it but it's a really good gift for if we want to say Jeff there's the debate about that I'm about flattening the curve so if you just treat it like the flu a lot of people are gonna be sick and it's gonna overwhelm the healthcare system capacity but if you practice social distancing if you wash your hands if you limit when you go home or when you stay away from home or you go out to go grocery shopping then you can actually flatten the curve and that's where that that phrase comes from so let's continue with resources so we can also think about transportation systems because our societies are networked through roads and rail rate railway systems and airports so we've seen with airports we've seen flights canceled you might have had your study abroad trip cancel you we also have screenings at airports which would create massive long lines because our airports were not set up to be medical centers we can also think about international border shutdowns what does that do with trade what does that do with family life if one side of the family lives on one border one side of the border and the other lives on another side of the border what does that do with work life if you cross the border especially maybe from Canada to the United States or Mexico to the United States to work what does that do to your life so a lot of cities have mass transit systems subways buses and so how do you pack a lot of people and practice social dense distancing so let's look at this picture how do you practice social distancing when you're trying to get on a subway it's really hard and so mass transit systems are great for moving people around but it's also great for spreading social disease so also with resources we can think about communication systems so we need to talk with each other we need to communicate with each other so what we've seen is that some countries have really strong public health networks among scholars there there might be a centralized public health system and they're communicating with each other other countries have hodgepodge networks where they're a little bit more informal and so the communication networks are not as strong you can also think about the internet I mean we are all using the internet now to learn some of you might have already taken online classes some of you this might be new and so the internet now is a need it's not just a want you have to have the Internet and so we can ask questions who has access to the Internet when public libraries are shut down or when colleges are shut down who has access to the Internet Internet monthly fees can be expensive and so now we start looking at issues of poverty and access to a really needed resource and then we can start looking at all the different ways that we are starting to connect for education so you might have zoomed with your professor you might have been on Google Hangouts with friends then there's canvas or blackboard or Moodle whatever learning management system you use and so we're learning that these are resources that we are using every day now to get our work done so with resources we can also think about social connections because resources are not just things but they're also relationships if you've studied pierre board do you can think about social capital so first off the big question how does the disease spread through social networks what we're seeing a lot is that this disease is transmitted through people who are in close contact with each other and that means family so if someone in a household gets it there's a really high chance of someone else getting it in the family so you can start looking at social networks and how the disease is spread we can also start looking at social isolation what happens if you live in your apartment by yourself or your house by yourself and you don't have family with you so social isolation can be true isolation that's not like you're hunkering down with other people but you're absolutely isolated what we've also seen are is the loss of third spaces so a third space is not home and it's not work it's a third space so think of like a coffee shop or a bar think about a place where people gather socially and these places have been shut down so parks restaurants to dine in your local coffee shop they've all been shut down so how do you have social connections when we've lost our third spaces so now it's we have home and if you're in the medical community or an essential community you may have work or now it might be home and you might work from home if you're lucky to still have your job and so we've lost these third spaces and then what we're all trying to figure out is how do we maintain close social contact even when we don't have physical closeness and so how do we maintain these relationships how do we maintain family ties over FaceTime or Google Hangouts or zoom during this time of social isolation so with resources I mean the is resource worth seeing is wealth how much money people have the assets they own did they have a house do they have cars and so what we're seeing especially in the United States as wealthy people have greater access to healthcare and I put this in parentheses for the United States because other industrialized countries every other industrialized country has universal healthcare they don't tie health care to employment and so if you're lucky enough to have your job and keep it during this time you can continue to have access to health care but what happens when you lose your job because your company's laying people off because we're entering into a recession or depression well the United States because we've connected health care to employment people are losing health care so we're seeing there's a health care gap also wealthy people have enough savings to take time off from work so if they don't have paid time off what happens when your boss says hey we're not gonna pay you for the next month because we don't have work for you to do well if we people have a cushion the Sociology Robert Putnam calls this social air bags this idea when there's a crash do you have something cushioning you and then wealthy people are more likely to have jobs that allow them to work from home so let's explore this idea further so we can think about two different type of labor markets there's the primary labor market and this is where people have good benefits they've paid time off they have health insurance they have the ability to work home and stay away from the contagion so that here the examples are software engineer they can work on their computer at home lawyers can work from home accountants can we professors can as well but then you have what's called the secondary labor market and here these positions have less job security and they rarely have benefits and so either there's no way to do the work from home because they're laid off or they must work because they're an essential employee and so they're going to be exposed to the contagion so here you can think about janitors all of your groceries store workers restaurant workers people who are getting food to us people who are getting Sanitation to us garbage collectors they can't do their work from home so they have to be they're going to be exposed or other type of secondary labour market people our positions they're just let let go so when the store closes if it's a clothing store they're let go of course this ignores medical professionals so usually physicians nurses these are primary labor market positions but because they're medical positions they're absolutely working and being exposed to the contagion so continuing with resources now we can start thinking about institutions this in itself could be its own node when we think about social structure so absolutely but let's I put it under resources just to help out so let's think about how major resources are I'm sorry major institutions are being affected by the Cova nineteen biros so we've seen major sports being suspended there aren't basketball games or little league games so people don't have entertainment as much religious services are closed in person and then churches are struggling on how do you have a service electronically schools go online I think that's what you're experiencing right now and so institutions are just moving from in-person to digital and that's a radical change and then childcare and elder care are more difficult to find if your childcare center closes down or your babysitter can't come over to your house then what do you do with your children similarly with elder care and so what happens if you're still working let's say you're a nurse and you're still going into the hospital and you don't have anyone to take care of your child so what do you do and that's a real struggle here's a picture of a priest who is learning how to film Mass or the service on his iPhone and so I show this picture because all these institutions are trying to figure out how do you how do you have some sense of normality when everything is socially distanced when everything is turned digitally okay so we're going back to our social structure we've covered resources let's move on to culture so culture I like a simple definition of culture it's a way of life but it also can be the knowledge the values the beliefs the language that we passed down from generation to generation so within culture let's think about politics so what we're seeing in this pandemic is that our political culture greatly affects how we react to the threat and how serious we take we take it so poll after poll has been done and I'm showing one from Pew Research conducted March 16th March 10th through 16th so this is already dated and so things can change but it's the percent who say the corona virus outbreak is a major threat to and then they list some things the US economy the health of the US population day to day life in your community your excuse me your a personal situation or your personal health across the board our political leanings so if you're a Republican or lean Republican or if you're Democrat lean Democrat they impact how we interpret the pandemic so culture here is showing that it's not just biology that's going on but culture is actually shaping how people interpret the pandemic so across the board people who are Republican or lean Republican are less likely to say that the corona virus outbreak is a major threat moving on with culture we can think about language our language actually in fact affects how we interpret the pandemic as well so it's not only political culture so what do we call it do we call it the scientific sounding Co vid 19 or do we call it the Chinese coronavirus and so what we've seen is calling the virus the Chinese corona virus or the Luhan virus or some other people called it the kung flu has has led to physical violence and racist attacks against people of Asian descent so I want to show a video from NBC News about this China that's why words matter only presents physical harm to the asian-american community medical experts and health experts agreed that the proper term is : 19 or a novel coronavirus by using this term adds nothing to the scientific community but causes harm to the Asian America it comes from China the implication of using words like that is to suggest that somehow Chinese people as a whole are to blame and legitimizes the American populace as a whole or certain elements of it to discriminate against Asian America and when I say discriminate I'm talking about physical harm verbal abuse that people feel and actually experience these aren't just semantics here that were talking about these are actual events that people are facing [Music] but you can use the time again a person at the white house use the doors to join flu my question is wrong come flu do you think using the term Chinese virus that puts asian-americans I think they probably would agree with it a hundred percent it comes from China well unfortunately Asian Americans have faced discrimination have faced these sorts of issues throughout our history in the United States Americans have always been better because we are diverse community because we come from different backgrounds and that is why words like this from the president and refusing to acknowledge the harm that this does to our community is so troubling okay so what we can see is that our linguistic culture affects actually racist patterns so moving on with culture there is also we can think about a narrative what's the story that we tell ourselves about the coronavirus and so here we can get into scape go skate scapegoating excuse me so when we scapegoat someone we blame someone so whom do we blame for the epidemic so do we blame Asians do we blame Europeans especially Italians do we blame a political culture so Republicans or Democrats and so as you're starting to look at the framing of this narrative of this pandemic who is scapegoated who is blamed so going back to our three-part social structure resources culture let's move into demographics so demographics the makeup of a society in terms of age and gender and race and wealth so we have to ask the question who is most vulnerable to the epidemic and then how is vulnerability so distributed so for instance we're seeing that the elderly people Durley are vulnerable to this pandemic and we've seen that in Italy it hit Italy really hard because they have higher rates of older people and what epidemiologists are predicting is that Florida in the United States is gonna be hit heart as well because they have more elderly we can also think about the homeless so the homeless so we can start looking at urban areas homeless people are particularly vulnerable to the corona virus and then they incarcerated so we're starting to see outbreaks in prison systems because there is no social distancing in a Correctional Facility and so I put the example here as United States because we have the highest rates of incarceration amongst any nation in the world and then those with pre-existing medical conditions and the immunocompromised so we have to ask ourselves what are the demographic categories that are experiencing this pandemic at higher rates than other categories so going back to our three-part structure we've covered resources we've covered culture and we've covered demographics so let's think about social change what kind of long-term changes will result from this pandemic what's gonna happen and of course this is all speculation but we associate sociologists and sociology scholars we have to start thinking about this so we need to ask what industries will survive in winter ones won't and then if you survive if this not people survive but if industries survive how will they be transformed what is education gonna look like next fall next year in ten years based off of this pandemic how our religious services going to be changed how our malls and shopping center is going to be changed and then how will or will this change how Americans think about healthcare reform sure health care in United States be tied to employment when a pandemic erases employment for a lot of people and so will this change the narrative about having health care coverage that is not tied to having a job and then how the how will this change how we relate to each other how will social isolation and social distancing change in the future when that's over will long-term socialize the social isolation lead to increased community belonging on the other side of things so these are questions we don't have answers for them but we definitely need to start thinking about them so this has been sociology of pandemics I appreciate you listening I'm dr. Todd Ferguson and I'm collaborating with dr. Josh Tom and so once again a big thanks to the org theory team we're not affiliated with them but they absolutely helped structure our thinking so thank you very much and I hope you stay well