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Applying the Concepts of “Community Spread” and “Flatten the Curve” to Chronic Conditions and Their Prevention 

Thomas W. O’Rourke

ajhe cover May June 2020

As this is being written, the Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is spreading around the planet. To date, 210 countries have been affected. 1 Billions of people are in lockdown as health services struggle to cope. Across America, cases and fatalities have been reported in all states. Particularly hard hit have been major cities such as New York, New Orleans, Seattle, Chicago and Detroit with more certainly to come. Words such as isolation and self-quarantine are ubiquitous. Previously unknown or rarely referenced terms such as social isolation, social distancing, shelter in place, personal protection equipment (PPE) and ventilators also are now part of everyday lexicon and jargon. Millions of Americans, like myself, are hunkered down and doing their best to minimize their own risk and risk to others; an option unavailable to millions more in essential services, ranging from health care workers and first responders to transportation, food processing and grocery store employees.

Unlike toilet paper and sanitary wipes, one commodity not in demand by most at this time is time itself. The crisis has provided plenty of time to read and reflect. Articles once relegated to a corner pile on the desk are now getting their just attention. One of particular interest is Today’s Health Problems and Health Education. 2 In this 1954 article, an icon in Health Education, Mayhew Derryberry, who in 1941 was appointed the first chief of the newly formed Division of Health Education in the U.S. Public Health Service, contrasted the challenges for health education of chronic compared to communicable diseases. In contrast, using the Derryberry article as a departure point, the purpose of this Commentary is to expand our thinking on addressing chronic conditions using current strategies to contain the communicable COVID-19. This Commentary advances the notion that strategies to address communicable diseases also have relevance and applicability for Health Educators and the American Journal of Health Education, with its mission to prevent or delay the onset of major chronic diseases and illnesses and inform the discussion on the role of lifestyle behaviors in chronic disease management.

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