"Listen to the people": public deliberation about social distancing measures in a pandemic

Am J Bioeth. 2009 Nov;9(11):4-14. doi: 10.1080/15265160903197531.


Public engagement in ethically laden pandemic planning decisions may be important for transparency, creating public trust, improving compliance with public health orders, and ultimately, contributing to just outcomes. We conducted focus groups with members of the public to characterize public perceptions about social distancing measures likely to be implemented during a pandemic. Participants expressed concerns about job security and economic strain on families if businesses or school closures are prolonged. They shared opposition to closure of religious organizations, citing the need for shared support and worship during times of crises. Group discussions elicited evidence of community-mindedness (e.g., recognition of an extant duty not to infect others), while some also acknowledged strong self-interest. Participants conveyed desire for opportunities for public input and education, and articulated distrust of government. Social distancing measures may be challenging to implement and sustain due to strains on family resources and lack of trust in government.

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Choice Behavior
  • Community Health Planning* / ethics
  • Community Health Planning* / methods
  • Community Health Planning* / organization & administration
  • Community Health Planning* / trends
  • Decision Making
  • Disease Outbreaks*
  • Female
  • Focus Groups
  • Government Regulation
  • Health Policy / trends*
  • Humans
  • Influenza, Human / epidemiology
  • Male
  • Middle Aged
  • Policy Making*
  • Public Health*
  • Public Opinion*
  • Quarantine* / ethics
  • Surveys and Questionnaires
  • Trust
  • United States