For scientists who study the social dynamics that drive the COVID-19 pandemic, contagion is not a singular thing. As SFI External Professor Joshua Epstein of New York University states (in an op-ed for Politico), the contagion of fear is as significant to the current pandemic as the novel coronavirus itself.
As Epstein observes, fear can both help and hinder public health responses to pandemics. In the 1918 influenza pandemic, for example, fear was helpful for reinforcing social distancing measures. When these measures were effective, and fear abated, it was most likely the decline in fear that caused the second spike.
On the other hand, scientists recognize that fear of both economic crisis and vaccination can worsen the prospects for recovery. Fear of economic collapse drives risky economic reopening; fear of vaccination can threaten our prospects for long-term public immunity.
For Epstein, to formulate the strongest possible public health response to the current pandemic, political leaders must manage fear contagion on three fronts: disease spread, economic recovery, and vaccination.
Read the article in Politico (March 31, 2020)