Degree Name



Microbiology and Molecular Biology


Life Sciences

Defense Date


Publication Date


First Faculty Advisor

Dr. Joel Griffitts

Second Faculty Advisor

Dr. Sandra Hope

First Faculty Reader

Dr. Brian Poole

Honors Coordinator

Dr. David Erickson


pandemics, social polarization, influenza, COVID-19, HIV, AIDS, United States


Within the past century, three major pandemics have affected the United States – the Spanish Flu, AIDS, and COVID-19. Each of these pandemics has tested the capabilities of the public health sector and the social resilience of the population. Scientists have studied the viruses and implemented public health measures to limit viral transmission, but the social responses to these preventative measures proved to be difficult to predict and control. The dissonance and polarization between the public health initiatives and the response of the general public in the most recent pandemic was apparent. Was this a pattern in other pandemics? Was there a time where public policy and social responses were more closely aligned? Was social polarization, or the tendency of modern-day society to ground themselves in an extreme point of view on current public health issues, evident in other pandemics, or was this a new phenomenon? Through the novel lens of newspaper articles, this thesis will shed light on the tension between public policy and social responses in the last century in the United States.