Tag Archive: coronavirus pandemic

Making the world a quieter and better place

Photo credit: hjl licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

I wrote the other day about the eerie nighttime silence of a city so jolted by violence that its nightly curfew starts at 1:00 p.m. in the afternoon. We’re approaching the end of the third month of lockdown, with a gradual reopening of the economy in Los Angeles County, now the center of the coronavirus epidemic in California.

The “Groundhog Day” nature of life these days is getting old. When I know the evening schedule for our three Public Broadcasting System stations by heart, this is not a good thing.

But, as I tell my wife, things could be far worse. I’m not getting shot at when I go to the market to buy food, we’re not being bombed, we have food, water, gas, electricity, internet and cable TV, we’re not in a refugee camp. We’re in a house with a yard, not a small crowded apartment, everyone in the family is working, almost everyone from home,

I only knew one person who died from COVID at age 92, and one friend on the east coast who got COVID at work but has recovered.

We miss cultural events, museums, movies, restaurant dining, and travel, but again, things could be far worse.

I recognize that when for the foreseeable future the new normal for the U.S. is 20,000+ new COVID cases each day and another 1,000 deaths, noise concerns fade in importance, but they are still important.

I understand that as our country continues to be unable to control the COVID epidemic, as American democracy hangs by a thread, and the nation tries to deal with job losses not seen since the Great Depression, the environment is a relatively minor concern. But it is still a concern.

Several of The Quiet Coalition’s members have written about the reduction in noise, largely transportation noise, during the COVID lockdown with beneficial effects on people, birds, and ocean life. The only way we will be able to keep the quiet, to eliminate unnecessary noise, is to elect leaders and legislators who are concerned about the environment.

Those of use concerned about the environment should check now that we are still registered to vote. We should encourage everyone we know to do the same. And perhaps to file the papers to get a vote-by-mail ballot if that is possible where you live. I am already signed up to vote by mail.

Meaningful change may come from protests in the street, but peaceful and perhaps more meaningful change will come from exercising our franchise to vote at the ballot box.

Please register to vote and vote in November. This may be the most important election of our lifetimes.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Experts envision post-COVID cities without noise and pollution

Car-free street in New York City during lockdown | Photo credit: Jim Griffin has dedicated this photograph to the public domain

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Menios Constantinou, Architecture & Deisgn, writes about how the COVID pandemic and lockdown is giving us the opportunity to envision our cities without the twin scourges of noise and pollution. Constantinou interviewed Professor Mark Nieuwenhuijsen, a professorial fellow at the MacKillop Institute for Health Research and a leading environmental epidemiologist, who talked about how he noticed at the beginning of the lockdown that he could hear birds singing as the traffic noise had greatly diminished. Nieuwenhuijsen’s observation led him to reimagine what cities could be.

And he’s not the only one. Nieuwenhuijsen told Constantinou that “[w]hat you see in places like Milan is the policymakers taking advantage of the current situation, and using it as an opportunity to rethink how they plan their cities.” This is also happening elsewhere, with more than a dozen European nations backing a green post-pandemic recovery plan. The money can only be spent once, Nieuwenhuijsen adds, so “we might as well do it in the way that will save more lives in the long term, and create a more just, sustainable and liveable society.”

I’ve been wondering if this flashback we’ve been living in—flashback to what life may have been like before the industrial revolution—would produce any permanent changes when it’s over.

It’s a tough question to answer as we know so little about what happened after previous pandemics. For instance, the Great Flu Pandemic of 1918 was a social cost of the WWI mobilization–hat flu began with animal to human transmission in Kansas, spread east to Army recruitment centers, travelled abroad, exploded there and then returned to the U.S. in the tragically deadly second wave. And, of course the great plagues in Europe during the 14th to 16th centuries continued episodically for over 200 years because they didn’t have a theory of viral or bacterial disease or know they’re transmitted. That one, of course, then travelled across the Atlantic to North and South America with the Conquistadors and their soldiers and crews—ultimately destroying millions of lives and ending lost-established, indigenous civilizations.

This time we have the opportunity to learn from it. And there are encouraging signs that urban planners are embracing the idea that quieter, cleaner cities are possible, and what’s more, they’re highly desirable. Will that spur an acceleration in interest among city planners and others in doing more to regain that which has been lost to pollution and noise?

We can only hope that what Professor Nieuwenhuijsen comments will be heeded everywhere!

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.

The quiet of the curfew

Photo credit: Eden, Janine and Jim licensed under CC BY 2.0

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

The protests over the death of George Floyd literally in the hands of the police have turned violent in many communities, including mine. The last two days the curfew has begun at 1 p.m., lasting until 5:30 a.m. the next morning.

Last night there were demonstrations and some looting and fires two miles to the east, and three miles to the west, but fortunately nothing happened in our city.

Once the low-flying helicopters stopped, and the distant sirens stopped, perhaps about 10 p.m., it was eerily quiet.

There were no passing cars or motorcycles or sirens heard though the open window.

As those who follow this blog post know, I am a passionate advocate for quiet.

But I wanted a little more noise last night. Just a little more noise…..

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

The lockdown provides an opportunity for scientific research

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

This BBC report asks the question, “Is the coronavirus lockdown an opportunity for scientific research?”

To me, the answer is definitely, “Yes.”

As the report discusses, and as we have commented on, the marked decrease in human activity during the lockdown has allowed scientists to have new insights in the fields of seismology, marine sciences, and air pollution. In addition, it has increased scientific collaboration using the internet and various platforms, and allowed increased “citizen science” because people are sheltering in place, where they can observe and report on insect life, bird life, and plants, among other things in their yards, to scientists conducting research in these areas.

Most importantly, I think, is that the lockdown constitutes an “experiment of nature” where multiple topics can be studied in a wide variety of fields with the experimental intervention–a novel coronavirus pandemic, with a global lockdown in human activity including much of the global economy–being one that could never be planned but now has happened.

In political science, for example, researchers will be able to compare the effects of different political structures and different leadership styles on both economics and on coronavirus death rates. In Denmark, for example, the coronavirus death rate is half that in the U.S., lower than that in nearby Sweden, and the unemployment rate is 5%. Children are returning to school.

In economics, the “dismal science,” the costs of different national approaches to handling the coronavirus pandemic will provide fodder for PhD theses and think tank study for years if not decades. In public health, the effectiveness of different strategies for dealing with a novel coronavirus is already apparent. Unfortunately, in medicine and virology much has been learned about dealing with a new disease with no specific treatment, only supportive treatment, and as of yet no vaccine and no cure.

And in Georgia, motor vehicle safety experts will be able to compare the crash, injury, and mortality rates between the 16,000 Georgia teens getting their drivers licenses without a road test compared to those who did have to take the road test earlier in the year.

I’m sure there are many more topics that can be investigated due to the unfortunate opportunity created for scientific research by the coronavirus epidemic.

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Noise complaints continue, but source changes

Photo credit: Daria Shevtsova from Pexels

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

In an earlier post on noise complaints, I referred to an article that said nonresidential noise complaints about noises from outside of homes, especially from construction, have gone down in New York City due to the lockdown. By contrast that article noted that residential neighbor-to-neighbor complaints held steady.

Now, several weeks later, Sankalp Gulati in his article “Tracking post-pandemic normalcy: noise complaints in NYC” reports that commercial noise complaints–especially from bars and pubs–“have slumped” during the lockdown, whereas residential noise complaints, e.g. loud television, loud music, loud talking and banging, have increased. This can be readily understood in that people are staying home, both during the day and in the evening. And, as the article notes, many people are playing loud music.

Gulati based his article on the noise complaints registered with 311. I don’t know if he is presently monitoring noise complaints to 311 but if he is, I would like him to know that New Yorkers were told two weeks ago not to call 311 with “traditional” complaints because the operators were focusing on the coronavirus pandemic. He goes on to say that examining the data “during the recovery phase of the pandemic” might be an indicator that New Yorkers were returning to their usual “social behavior and routines.”

I would hope that Gulati would continue his interest in noise and collect the data on noise complaints during the recovery phase of the pandemic and provide us with his findings.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

April 29 is International Noise Awareness Day

by Daniel Fink, MD, Chair, The Quiet Coalition

Wednesday, April 29, 2020, is the 25th anniversary of International Noise Awareness Day. Twenty-five years isn’t quite as big an anniversary as fifty years, e.g, for Earth Day this year, but it is still an accomplishment. The Center for Hearing and Communication started observing this day to encourage people to do something about bothersome noise.

One of the small silver linings worldwide as a result of lockdowns brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic has been the marked decrease in traffic as people shelter in place, with corresponding decreases in almost all types of transportation noise. Urban dwellers report they can hear birdsong. Of course, when everyone is home, noise from a neighbor who is also at home can be much more annoying than when it only occurs while one is at work.

In general, a quieter world is a healthier world for all living things.  And I will be observing the day by going for my morning walk and listening for the call of the neighborhood’s Cooper’s hawk.

What will you do to celebrate International Noise Awareness Day?

Dr. Daniel Fink is a leading noise activist based in the Los Angeles area. He is the founding chair of The Quiet Coalition, an organization of science, health, and legal professionals concerned about the impacts of noise on health, environment, learning, productivity, and quality of life in America. Dr Fink also is the interim chair of Quiet Communities’ Health Advisory Council, and he served on the board of the American Tinnitus Association from 2015-2018.

Will the pandemic teach us to listen once again?

Photo credit: Quinn Dombrowski licensed under CC BY-SA 2.0

by Arline L. Bronzaft, Ph.D., Board of Directors, GrowNYC, and Co-founder, The Quiet Coalition

For an individual who has focused more on her auditory receptor than her visual receptor for the past forty years, I spent much of my time convincing others to pay as much attention to their sonic environment as they do their visual surroundings. I have urged people to recognize the dangers of loud sounds and noise to their hearing and their overall mental and physical health. Similarly, I write about the pleasures of the good sounds around us. The last page of my children’s book “Listen to the Raindrops” (illustrated by Steven Parton) reads:

Moms, dads, girls and boys join together to stop the noise, So that we can one and all, Forever hear the raindrops fall.

As the years passed, I have had more success with my efforts, but now with the coronavirus pandemic it appears that many people who paid less attention to their aural environment than their visual have now awakened to the stimuli that reach into their ears and then impact on their experiences. In “Hopeful birdsong, foreboding sirens: A pandemic in sound,” Leanne Italie writes:

The coronavirus has drastically transformed the world in sound. The routine cacophony of daily life has calmed, lending more weight to the noises left behind. And in those mundane sounds, now so unexpectedly bared, many have found comfort, hope and dread.

Italie goes on to explain how the sounds she is now tuned in to affect the listeners emotionally. Ambulance sirens break ones heart, but the balcony singing in Europe and the applause and whooping at 7 p.m. in New York, saying thank you to our medical care workers, is viewed as uniting people. The increased silence has made people more aware of the snippets of sound in the street when they venture out, Italie writes. She also writes about the visually impaired who depend on the sounds around them to navigate their streets. The article ends with a call to keep listening.

I strongly agree that we should keep listening as I have said for all these years. Become aware of the too loud health-damaging sounds, e.g. aircraft, rail and road noises and advocate to lessen them so that we can all appreciate the quiet that brings comfort as well as allowing us to forever hear the raindrops fall.

Dr. Arline Bronzaft is a researcher, writer, and consultant on the adverse effects of noise on mental and physical health. She is co-author of “Why Noise Matters,” author of “Listen to the Raindrops” (children’s book illustrated by Steven Parton), and has written extensively about noise in books, encyclopedias, academic journals, and the popular press.  In addition, she is a Professor Emerita of the City University of New York and Board member of GrowNYC.

Takeways from a silent pandemic

Photo credit: Hakan Tahmaz from Pexels

by David M. Sykes, Vice Chair, The Quiet Coaliton

The Quiet Coalition co-founder Arline Bronzaft, PhD, was interviewed by Newsday a few days ago. The long-time researcher and noise activist known for her work on noise and its impact on children’s education that began 50 years ago hopes humans around the world will learn a big lesson from this locked-down quiet period.

We all need to listen to nature! The rest of nature—the nonhuman parts—have been trying to tell us something for a long time and we just haven’t been able to hear it: when the noise stops, so does much of the air pollution we accepted as “normal.” The sky is bluer now, the air is breathable and sweeter, and we can hear birds singing—all because the dirty industrial processes that generate most of the noise are at a standstill.

Once this is over, can we hang onto some of those benefits? Is there a way to seize this moment to figure out how to lead quieter, less stressful, less polluting lives?

David Sykes chairs several professional organizations in acoustical science: QCI Healthcare Acoustics Project, ANSI Committee S12-WG44, the Rothschild Foundation Task Force on Acoustics, and the FGI Acoustics Committee. He is lead author of “Sound & Vibration 2.0” (Springer, 2012), a contributor to the NAE’s “Technology for a Quieter America” and the GSA’s “Sound Matters,” and co-founded the Laboratory for Advanced Research in Acoustics at Rensselaer Polytech. A graduate of UC-Berkeley with advanced degrees from Cornell, he is a frequent organizer of professional conferences in the U.S., Europe, Asia and the Middle East.