Social Support & Its Relationship with America’s COVID Response

Nick Pitas portrait photo

Nick Pitas reflects on his past publication discussing social capital and its effect on our country’s COVID-19 response.

Nick Pitas, Assistant Professor in the Department of Recreation, Therapeutic Recreation, and Tourism published “Social Capital in the Response to COVID-19,” in the American Journal of Health Promotion. The paper has about 4,600 views and 28 citations.

“How communities work together is really important at any time but especially important in emergencies or disasters,” Pitas said.

Pitas believes that our response is partially determined by how well we function together as a community and how much social capital we have built up.

Social capital defines the resources that a person can get from relationships, whether with people that are really close or acquaintances. “The general feeling that you can rely on the community is an example of having social capital,” said Pitas.

According to the paper, many of the necessary protective practices instituted in response to COVID-19 further undermine social capital in American communities, exacerbating a trend that many argue has been in place for decades. Practices like isolation, physical distancing, less time in public spaces, and a change in regular day-to-day activities, as well as historic lows of trust for the government. Together (those practices) would limit our abilities to respond in an effective way,” he said.

Pitas and his co-author Colin Ehmer, a public health practitioner for Save the Children Federation, proposed that communities “should seek to strengthen and expand social networks and that a failure to do so would mean more widespread infection and illness and death.”

Three takeaways from “Social Capital in Response to COVID-19.”

  1. During these times of crisis, focus on building and maintaining relationships, especially those that provide important social support.
  2. Give yourself permission to use technology as a tool, in order to nurture those important relationships.
  3. Continue to invest in relationships by building a stockpile of support and connections, because there will come another crisis.

Hindsight

Now, about a year into the COVID-19 pandemic, Pitas has been able to see his argument play out. “I think unfortunately the argument of this paper was correct, which is too bad. In that, the US would be less effective because of the fraying social fabric,” he said.

The research predicted that digital media would become a central role in reinforcing bonding- or our closest relationships. And that in turn, building social capital through weaker relationships, like interactions with strangers on a dog walk or those you have less in common with, would become more difficult.

Secondly, Pitas argued that a distrust in government would have direct implications on the ability to flatten the curve. “This lack of trust in government, the result of misinformation and missteps at the federal level reduces adherence to protective measures and ultimately weakens the public health response to the pandemic,” the paper stated.

And lastly, parks and public spaces are proving to be essential services rather than luxuries. Historically, parks and recreation are one of the first budget lines cut during tough economic periods. “My hope is that this will change that narrative a bit, and nudge us in the direction of realizing that these are really important, critical services, that can’t just be ignored when we don’t have the cash to go around,” he said.

“People are re-learning how important public spaces are. And how important it is to invest in them,” Pitas said.

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Author: Meghan Finnerty

Contact:

Nick Pitas: npitas@brockport.edu