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COVID-19: Why We Need More Research about the Law & Public Health

Collage of photos showing different signs, T-shirts, and graphics featuring different opinions about government policies to deal with COVID-19

The government and researchers must increase their study of the effects of law on public health. That's according to Temple University Law and Public Health Professor, Scott Burris. He recently co-wrote an op-ed article for the New England Journal of Medicine entitled, "The Legal Epidemiology of Pandemic Control."

Michelle O'Neill talked with Burris who says it's way past time for people to demand that policy-makers spend more time and money to find out how laws affect public health, learn from the results, and then take action.

Burris Scott Temple law professor photo
Ryan S. Brandenberg/Ryan S. Brandenberg
Temple University
Scott Burris, Temple University law and public health professor

Professor Burris is also the Director of Temple University's Center for Public Health Law Research. He says from the beginning of the pandemic, public health officials had good intentions and sincerely did their best. But he says their response was not well thought-out and it didn't succeed in gaining long-term support from the public.

QC pub health experts and mayors at the first two COVID-19 press conferences
Michelle O'Neill
Doctors, nurses, and public health officials (top) and Quad Cities mayors (bottom) held press conferences about COVID-19 in March, 2020 to ask people to "flatten the curve."

From the beginning, medical professionals have been the go-to experts on how to respond to COVID-19. And some peopled started asking, "Why aren't we hearing from experts in other fields such as education, business, economics, sociology, and behavioral sciences? Why didn't the government consider a broad range of factors as it decided to lock down?"

Burris says he had the same questions, and mistakenly assumed federal public health officials had already taken those factors into account. He says the public health officials did not adjust to political and psychological realities.

The Temple University law professor is convinced more research into policy interventions, such as lockdowns, wearing masks, and social distancing, would pay off quickly.

Burris also says it's been harder for poor people to follow CDC guidelines. And he says many problems with law and policy stem from not properly understanding the pandemic and what to do about it. And experts from other fields could have anticipated some mistakes.

Professor Burris says most of our health problems stem from social design, and a transdisciplinary approach to problem-solving would be much more effective.

Ultimately, Professor Burris is confident we can solve many large and complex problems. But no one person is going to "lead us to safety. He says to survive, we must be engaged citizens and demand that politicians and other government officials measure the effects of their laws and policies and learn from the results.

To read "The Legal Epidemiology of Pandemic Control" op-ed, click HERE. The video below is from the Center for Public Health Law Research.

Officially, Michelle's title is WVIK News Editor. She does everything there is to do in the newsroom and whatever may be needed around the radio station.
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