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NEW YORK – Wendy Lanski says she has “an irrational fear of supermarkets”.

She fell ill with COVID-19 in March, and while she can’t pinpoint its exact exposure, her impression was that it was the grocery store.

She nearly died in her battle with the disease – and is one of many “long haulers” or COVID-19 survivors with persistent symptoms such as irregular heartbeat and partial hair loss.

Lanski, 50, also survived another national tragedy that has reshaped the way many Americans view their sense of security: the 9/11 terror attacks.

“I think there are a lot of parallels,” Lanski said of the two pivotal moments in modern history. Both have led Americans to better praise and appreciate first responders, he said. Some believe both are a hoax or a government conspiracy.

And both have led to changes in behavior in everyday life that may or may not make us safer. Is the size of a tube of toothpaste really important to help thwart terrorist plots? Do temperature controls stop the spread of coronavirus? Or we just do it feel safer?

People’s behavior can be governed by their perception of risk, regardless of whether it is in line with actual risk, when there is a crisis, says Dr. Joshua Morganstein, chair of the American Psychiatric Committee on the Psychiatric Dimensions of the Disaster. Association.

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

Lanski recalls flying for the first time since 9/11, five months after the attacks. Someone complained that the safety line was taking a long time. He took his World Trade Center ID.

“I said, ‘That’s why, man. … You just have to lower a level.'”

Wendy Lanski survived the 9/11 terrorist attacks and a battle with COVID-19. (Photo: Photo courtesy of Wendy Lanski)

Security measures and risk assessments are similar

As the coronavirus case count in the United States continues to rise, many Americans continue to take precautions to prevent the spread while increasing their sense of security, not unlike the safety and security measures some have taken and changes in behavior. occurred after 9/11.

After the terrorist attacks, airport security has increased. Some feared that large gatherings were potential next targets. People avoided traveling. Today, in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, many Americans shy away from large groups that could be potential “super spread” events. Some airports monitor people’s temperatures to detect fever. And the travel industry has faced a steep decline.

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

“They both felt some kind of unprecedented size. They both felt new and almost implausible until then,” he added. “What emerged immediately after was an almost different collective reality”.

For Emiliano Diaz de Leon, 44, cleaning every item he receives from grocery deliveries or leaving packages in his garage for three days before taking them means reducing the risk of infection for himself and his family.

His 11-year-old son recently tried to show him a news article that said surfaces are not the primary way the novel coronavirus spreads and that they would be fine if some of his birthday gifts could arrive a few days earlier.

Diaz de Leon wasn’t buying it. “He’s a smart kid,” said the Texas father. “He wanted to open his gifts.”

One of the reasons Diaz de Leon says he started taking such precautions was that at the start of the pandemic it wasn’t so clear what best practices were. So doing more, rather than less, gives him “peace of mind”.

Taking precautions has become a way of life in the years following 9/11 and now in the new era of the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: John Minchillo, AP)

Anniversary of September 11 last year: The United States celebrates the 18th anniversary of the 9/11 terrorist attack with silence and the ringing of bells

Similar to the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez said, many people after 9/11 seriously looked at the level of risk they could tolerate as the threat of another terrorist attack resulted in new behaviors.

Office buildings have ordered deep cleanings to scrub toxic debris, and some wore masks and gloves amid conflicting reports of air quality around Ground Zero, Ramirez said. “On a weekly basis, the type of malevolence of the dust has started to change,” he added, as further evidence pointed to its dangers.

Some who could afford to relocate from New York City, others bought personal protective equipment or gas masks in the event of a bioterrorist attack, and many feared traveling by public transit, Ramirez said.

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

“We will never know the number of potential plots foiled,” Ramirez said.

Is it a bad thing if you just feel safer?

At the start of the pandemic, scientists weren’t always sure about the source of people’s exposure to the coronavirus, said Dr. Aaron Milstone, a hospital epidemiologist and pediatric infectious disease specialist at Johns Hopkins.

Now, the medical community has a better perception of where cases come from and how the virus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets. While the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention states that it is possible to become infected after touching an infected surface and then your face, contracting the virus from a grocery store item “I would say these are very risky exposures, very low, ”Milstone said.

Are you still cleaning up your grocery shopping? The risk of coronavirus is “extremely small,” experts say

But taking such extra precautions isn’t necessarily a bad thing; they just need to be done correctly, said Dr. Kristin Englund, an infectious disease specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. For example, wearing gloves, which the CDC doesn’t recommend for most people, will no longer keep you safe if you then touch your face or cell phone, Englund said.

Temperature checks will not eliminate asymptomatic or presymptomatic people, and even wearing an extra layer of clothing while out in public may have no effect because there is no evidence that the virus is spreading through clothing, Englund said.

“While people can find other measures to take to reduce risk, what they need to be sure is that everything they’re doing makes sense and they’re doing it correctly,” Englund said.

But just because a behavior can go beyond what’s necessary, it could be beneficial if it makes people feel safer, Morganstein said.

“Believing you are safe confers significant health benefits,” Morganstein said. A feeling of security during a crisis can help reduce the likelihood of developing post-traumatic stress disorder symptoms, aid in sleep, and reduce the possibility of turning to alcohol or drugs, he said.

“It would be good for all of us to accept and support people who engage in behaviors that aren’t harmful to us and allow people to achieve a certain level of safety and comfort,” he said.

Social distancing still masks 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 to reach first responders who rushed to Ground Zero.

Many of those letters made a difference on those people’s psyche, Ramirez said.

“There has been this tremendous resurgence of appreciation for the value of human life and awe at the kind of common sense grit, skills and resourcefulness of essential workers and frontline workers,” Ramirez said.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Ramirez saw a similar return to appreciating frontline workers.

Many in his New York City neighborhood would come out at a certain time and cheer on doctors, nurses, and other hospital workers.

A 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 Lisa Delgado, 55, of 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 killing innocent people is far more serious than my inconvenience,” he said.

But even if you can’t skip the airport security line, you can go to some places and not wear a mask. Englund said the lack of more systematic warrants marks a fundamental difference between Americans’ responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and 9/11.

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

What are the best masks? Is it safe to shop? Your guide to COVID-19 safety

Diaz de Leon said it is “frustrating” and “heartbreaking and disturbing” to see others around him not doing the bare minimum for COVID-19 safety.

“I don’t expect people to do what I’m doing, but if people practiced social distancing and wore a mask, I would feel so much better about the future and the sense of worth for their life and my life,” he said. She said.

Nearly 770,000 lives would be saved around the world from early September to January 1 with the use of near-universal masks and social distancing, according to the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation.

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

For Lanski, returning to normal life after battling COVID-19 in the hospital is all about common sense and feeling empowered.

As it recovered and learned more about the virus, it began to expand where it went and what it did. While he avoids certain grocery stores, he feels good in the drive-through pharmacy. Some restaurants in the next town seem too cramped, so she only goes to one where she knows the owner, is always sitting 6 feet from the next table and sees all the employees wearing masks correctly.

When she was released from the hospital, Lanksi had items delivered to her home, but it was her husband’s birthday that got her out of the house to go shopping.

“I was trying to get something special,” he said. So she stumbled upon Whole Foods, quickly, one hour off, for a surprise.

“I’m playing with odds here,” he recalled thinking, but “I’m not going to die buying this cheesecake.”

Follow USA TODAY’s Ryan Miller on Twitter @RyanW_Miller

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