Healthcare professionals around the world are beginning to identify a range of COVID-19 related mental health issues that are certain to create new challenges for society. People are in serious distress about the pandemic itself, because of the devastating second and third-order effects of record unemployment and the overall negative economic impact. Safety and security professionals must be prepared to meet the challenges of a ‘new normal’.
The new normal is not the old normal. Society is emerging from a prolonged period of imposed self-isolation. This has been an incredibly stressful time, and the behavioral stresses created as a result remain to be seen. Security professionals everywhere need to be prepared to meet the challenges of a post-COVID shutdown world.
Mental health and COVID-19
A variety of mental health issues relate directly to people who have been infected by the SARS-CoV-2 virus, as well as those not infected but still forced into sheltered quarantine.
Coronaviruses in the past have passed into the central nervous systems of patients
Recent research published in the Lancet Psychiatry Journal noted that other Coronaviruses in the past have passed into the central nervous systems of patients, calling for more research to better understand the impact of COVID-19 on the human brain and nervous system. The journal specifically called for better monitoring of mental health as part of a coordinated response to the pandemic.
As a result of the pandemic quarantine closures, estimates are that more than 40 million people have lost their jobs in this country. We don’t know when these jobs will be coming back, or if they even will. The depressed economy is taking an unprecedented toll. Unemployment leads to desperation and desperate people often make poor choices. Historically, these situations have resulted in an increase in violence, including armed robberies, suicides and active shootings.
Spikes in firearms
The documented pandemic spike in firearm sales adds to the concern. NBC News recently reported that gun sales and federal background checks rose to an all-time high in March. In fact, the FBI conducted 3.7 million background checks in March, the highest total since the national instant check system for buyers was launched in 1998 and 1.1 million higher than the number conducted in March 2019.
The combination of rapidly increasing gun sales and the emergence of COVID-related mental health concerns means that schools, houses of worship, malls, movies theaters, and owners of every other venue where people gather must take all available steps to enhance the safety and security of their spaces - especially as these venues begin to reopen after prolonged closures.
This year, the Gun Violence Archive has recorded over 360 mass shootings (shootings with at least 4 victims besides the shooter). In 2019, at the end of August, there had been 283 mass shootings. This year is well on track to eclipse previous years and the numbers continue to grow month over month.
This year, the Gun Violence Archive has recorded over 360 mass shootings
Police response systems
The current climate of what is and isn’t worth an in-person response may also be emboldening potential shooters. In March, Detroit was forced to quarantine 152 police officers after 5 positive tests. In the same month, more than 690 officers tested positive across the country leading to similar quarantine responses. As numbers nationwide continue to grow, it is likely that this is an occurrence that will be repeated in many cities. Staying protected is a top priority, but social distancing requirements complicate the simple act of gathering information from a scene. The ability to cut through the chaos with clear and accurate information while maintaining responder safety has never been more needed.
Progress towards a vaccine only complicates the issue. According to a study published by Kaiser Family Foundation, over 150 million nonelderly people in the United States received employer-based health insurance in 2018. As unemployment continues to be a problem in a COVID-19 world, the number of people who may have easy access to healthcare is decreasing. Combining the loss of insurance with the loss of income can create a problem of accessibility for a significant number of people.
Locations such as pharmacies and doctor's offices will soon have inventory that, to many, will hold extremely high value. Banks are well equipped to handle the high value associated with their industry, but most health providers have done little to prepare. Some circles are eagerly awaiting a vaccine while others are questioning the safety and even the validity of such a fix. Those seeking to receive a vaccine may have to contend with groups who are strongly opposed to one.
Are we ready to reopen?
On December 4, 2016 a man walked into a Washington D.C. pizzeria with an AR-15 and began shooting. He had never visited this place before. He drove over 5 hours to get there. All of this was fueled by articles and stories he had been reading online. An election year with tensions running high can drive people to commit unthinkable acts, and 2020 has all of the elements necessary to create a similar incident.
2020 has all of the elements necessary to create a similar incident
The continued debate over reopening is also forcing people to make difficult decisions. In the current climate it may only be a matter of time before someone decides to take matters into their own hands and ‘force’ a closure. Even before the pandemic, phoned-in threats were not an uncommon prank used to cancel school for the day. As students are confronted with the threat of a virus, this kind of activity may take on a new tone. Despite most schools still being in the process of reopening, a quick search returns no shortage of examples.
As fear and desperation are at an all-time high, people continue to be divided. This division can only lead to more tragedy.
The default of physical security has long been locking the doors and adding surveillance cameras. Unfortunately, in more than 30% of venues where active shooter events occurred, installed access control systems were ineffective or defeated. Additional statistics show that, on average, the 911 call is not made for five minutes. This is time that is critical to saving lives. Automated gunfire detection systems are an active means of alerting law enforcement and first responders in the critical first moments of a tragedy.