CSHPE alum Patricia Wren offers a public health perspective on pandemic in SPH interview 

April 01, 2020

The U-M School of Public Health interviewed CSHPE alumna Patricia A. Wren (PhD '99) about the coronavirus pandemic. Wren is professor and chair of the Department of Health and Human Services at the University of Michigan-Dearborn. Her research centers on the measurement of patient-centered outcomes—ensuring that decisions about disease progression or treatment success take into account patient preferences and important indicators like quality of life, patient satisfaction, mobility, and functional status.


In the article “How to Think about Coronavirus Like a Public Health Expert,” Wren answers questions about the steps being taken by government and institutional leaders to “flatten the curve,” the quickly-evolving situation around the pandemic, and how people are reacting to “social distancing” orders.

When asked about measures like closing restaurants and shelter in place orders, Wren said, “The way I’m thinking about this is that we have an opportunity right now to learn from the experiences of other nations. The data showing the rates at which this pandemic took off in China, South Korea, Iran, and Italy are really compelling. In all those cases, when you look at the charts showing the spread of the disease, you see the line just shoot up like a rocket ship. We’re about two weeks behind all of those other rocket ships that launched. So we have to take dramatic action, like social distancing, to slow the movement of the virus through the population.”

While no one can confidently predict how long we will need to take social distancing measures, Wren believes we should be prepared to consider these precautions for at least the next six months: “These changes are a really big deal, and we have to begin to wrap our minds around what our neighbors are going to need, what restaurant workers are going to need, the impact on small businesses, what our students—whose families’ livelihoods are at risk—are going to need. I think the size and scale of the impact is not yet quantifiable. But we certainly do need to imagine how this could continue into the fall and plan accordingly.”

Finally, Wren reminds readers that we must work together at this challenging time: “I think the response to coronavirus is teaching us that we are connected in ways we have not conceived of in a while. Our health, our mental health, and our economic health are entirely interdependent. Parallel to that, the other positive I see is that we can take steps to be protective of each other. We of course need to practice good social distancing, but we are learning again what it means to be good neighbors and good family members and have increased patience and resilience and tolerance for each other. I'm hopeful that those are some lessons we as a people—as a nation—might learn again.”