Date of Award

August 2023

Degree Type


Degree Name

Master of Science


Urban Studies

First Advisor

Amanda I Seligman

Committee Members

Derek G Handley, Jamie M Harris


Communication, History, Non-pharmaceutical interventions, Pandemic, Pandemic response, Public health


Resistance to pandemic response policies was observed globally throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. This resistance has been linked by researchers to the prolonged duration and higher mortality rate of COVID-19 compared to previous pandemics, despite advancements in modern medicine, extensive surveillance networks and record vaccine production. However, the strategies implemented by public health officials during the COVID-19 pandemic closely mirrored those successful in mitigating past pandemics. To elucidate this disparity, a historical analysis encompassing the 1918, 1957, 1968, 2009, and Covid-19 pandemics was conducted within the city of Milwaukee. By examining archival documents and over 800 newspaper articles, this research found that health commissioners who considered the social, cultural, and historical context of Milwaukee residents exhibited significantly greater efficacy in eliciting cooperation with non-pharmaceutical interventions. This thesis concludes that in order to gain compliance with pandemic response policies and effectively address a pandemic, public health officials must consider the contextual factors that shape the attitudes and behaviors of the public.