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Steve Mnuchin said the impact of the coronavirus on the airline was “worse than 9/1

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USA TODAY

NEW YORK – Wendy Lansky says she had an “irrational fear of supermarkets.”

She fell ill with COVID-19 in March, and although she could not determine her exact exposure, she had a premonition that it was a grocery store.

She almost died in the battle against the disease – and she is one of many “long-term carriers” or survivors of COVID-19 with long-lasting symptoms such as irregular heartbeat and partial hair loss.

Lansky, 50, also experienced another national tragedy that changed the way Americans view their sense of security: the 9/11 terrorist attacks.

“I think there are a lot of parallels,” Lansky said of the two highlights of modern history. Both make Americans praise and appreciate the first responders, she said. Some believe both are fraud or a government conspiracy.

Both have led to changes in daily behavior that may or may not make us safer. Does the size of the toothpaste tube really matter to prevent terrorist plots? Do temperature tests stop the spread of the coronavirus? Or just I feel it more secure?

People’s behavior can be driven by risk perception, whether or not it is commensurate with the actual risk when there is a crisis, says Dr. Joshua Morganstein, chairman of the American Psychiatric Association’s Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of Disaster.

“It’s one thing to be safe and it’s another to feel safe,” Morganstein said.

Lansky recalls flying for the first time since 9/11, five months after the attacks. Someone complained that the line of defense was time consuming. She took her ID card from the World Trade Center.

I said, “That’s why, my friend … You just have to take it off. “

Security measures, risk assessments are similar

As the number of coronavirus cases in the United States continues to rise, many Americans continue to take precautions to prevent its spread, while enhancing their sense of security – in contrast to the safety and security measures some have taken and behavioral changes. occurred after 9/11.

After the terrorist attacks, the security of the airport was strengthened. Some feared large gatherings as potential targets. People avoided traveling. Today, amid the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans are staying away from large groups that could be potential events for a “super spreader.” Some airports monitor people’s temperatures to detect fever. And the tourism industry has faced a sharp decline.

“Perhaps now the 9/11 era has given way to the COVID-19 era or pandemic,” said Ian Ramirez, chief curator of the 9/11 National Memorial and Museum.

“They both felt somehow unprecedented in scale. They both felt new and almost implausible so far,” she added. “What emerged soon after was an almost different collective reality.”

For Emiliano Diaz de Leon, 44, deleting any item he receives from groceries or leaving packages in his garage for three days before importing them reduces the risk of infection for him and his family.

His 11-year-old son recently tried to show him the news that the mentioned surfaces are not the main way the new coronavirus spreads and it would be good if some of his birthday presents could come in a few days earlier.

Diaz de Leon did not buy it. “He’s a sharp kid,” the Texas father said. “He wanted to open his presents.”

One of the reasons Diaz de Leon says he has taken such precautions is that in the early days of the pandemic, it was so unclear what best practices were. So doing more than less gives him “peace of mind.”

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Like the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez said, many people after September 11 took a serious look at what level of risk they could take as the threat of a new terrorist attack sparked new behaviors.

Office buildings ordered deep cleaning to remove toxic debris, and some wore masks and gloves amid conflicting reports of air quality around Ground Zero, Ramirez said. “Every week, the kind of malice of the dust began to change,” she added, as more evidence pointed to the dangers.

Some who could afford to move out of New York, others have bought personal protective equipment or gas masks in the event of a bioterror attack, and many are afraid to travel by public transport, Ramirez said.

It was not uncommon to see members of the National Guard in New York or a warning tape around a suspicious bag, she added.

“We will never understand the number of thwarted potential conspiracies,” Ramirez said.

Is it a bad thing if you just feel more secure?

In the early days of the pandemic, scientists were not always sure of the source of human exposure to the coronavirus, said Dr. Aaron Millstone, a hospital epidemiologist and pediatric infectious disease specialist at Hopkins.

The medical community now has a better idea of ​​where the cases come from and how the virus spreads mainly through respiratory droplets. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says it’s possible to get infected after touching an infected surface and then infecting your face with a virus from a grocery store, “I’d say these are very, very low-risk exposures.” said Millstone. .

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But taking such additional precautions is not necessarily a bad thing; they just have to be done right, said Dr. Christine Englund, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland clinic. For example, wearing gloves, which the CDC does not recommend for most people, will not provide you with greater safety if you then touch your face or cell phone, Englund said.

Temperature checks will not remove people who are asymptomatic or asymptomatic, and wearing an extra layer of clothing while in a public place may also have no effect, as there is no evidence that the virus spreads through clothing, Englund said.

“While people can come up with other measures to take to reduce their risk, what they need to be sure of is what they are doing, it makes sense and they are doing it right,” Englund said.

But just because a behavior can go beyond what is necessary would be useful if it made people safer, Morganstein says.

“Belief in safety has significant health benefits,” Morganstein said. Feeling safe during a crisis can help reduce the likelihood of developing symptoms of post-traumatic stress disorder, help with sleep and reduce the chance of turning to alcohol or drugs, he said.

“It would be decent to accept and support people who engage in behaviors that are not harmful to us and allow people to achieve a certain level of safety and comfort,” he said.

Social distancing, masks are still a “matter of choice” in the United States

In the weeks and months following 9/11, letters from children and people around the world began pouring in for the first responders to rush to Ground Zero.

Many of these letters change the psyche of these people, Ramirez said.

“There has been a huge resurgence of appreciation for the value of human life and awe for the kind of common sense and ability and ingenuity of key and front-line workers,” Ramirez said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez saw a similar return to the evaluation of front-line workers.

Many in her neighborhood of New York would go out at certain times and provide applause to doctors, nurses and other hospital workers.

The message of being a good citizen or being a good neighbor can be very motivating for some people to take health precautions that keep others safe, such as wearing a mask, Morganstein said.

For 55-year-old Lisa Delgado from Philadelphia, wearing a mask is like taking off her shoes at the airport.

“I don’t like it, but I do. It’s a pain, but the fact that innocent people are dying is a bigger job than my inconvenience,” she said.

But while you can’t miss the airport security line, you can go to some places and not wear a mask. Englund said the lack of more systematic mandates marked a key difference between Americans’ reactions to the COVID-19 and 9/11 pandemics.

“After 9/11, when every airport had to start this screening, I think that’s normal,” Englund said. “It’s something we all know we need to get to the airport a little earlier. … It’s not where we are right now. It’s still a matter of choice in many areas.”

What masks are best? Is it safe for grocery stores? Your COVID-19 safety guide

Diaz de Leon said it was “disappointing” and “heartbreaking and disturbing” to see others around him not doing a minimum for the safety of COVID-19.

“I don’t expect people to do what I do, but if people would practice social distancing and wear a mask, I would feel much better about the future and the sense of value for their lives and my life,” he said.

Nearly 770,000 lives will be saved worldwide from early September to January 1 with near-universal mask wearing and social distancing, according to the Institute for Health Indicators and Assessment at the University of Washington.

“If we could get everyone to do the basics, we could drastically reduce the number of COVID cases … and then people won’t have to go to extremes,” Englund said.

For Lansky, the return to normal life after her time in the fight against COVID-19 in the hospital is associated with common sense and a sense of empowerment.

As she recovers and learns more about the virus, she begins to expand where she went and what she did. Although she avoids certain grocery stores, she feels good in the pharmacy that goes through the car. Some restaurants in the neighboring town look too cramped, so she only goes to one where she knows the owner, is always located 6 feet from the next table outside, and sees all the employees wearing masks properly.

When she was first released from the hospital, Lanxie had items delivered to her door, but her husband’s birthday took her out of the house to the grocery store.

“I was just trying to get something special,” she said. So she ran into Whole Foods, quickly, in an hour to get some.

“I’m playing the odds here,” she recalls, thinking, “but I’m not going to die buying this cheesecake.”

Follow Ryan Miller of USA TODAY on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

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